The conventional graduation ceremonies occurring across Indiana offer an opportunity to recognize an unconventional one. A Columbia City high school this year is graduating five seniors from a student body of 38 — students nobody else could manage, one at a time, without much pomp or ceremony, at about half the cost of a public school.
TROY Center, an independent school founded in 1997, boasts a student body on whom the education system has given up — “bad actors” in faculty parlance, individuals identified by authorities as headed down the wrong path. Its students have been expelled or suspended from other schools or have faced incarceration for juvenile offenses. They were accustomed to slipping through the cracks.
Its approach, therefore, is different from other educational institutions. Its graduates earn accredited four-year high school diplomas. The students, taught by teachers who know them as individuals, get quality academic training at their own pace while receiving support in the way of counseling, life-skill development, parent involvement, transportation and nutrition programs.
The school has served more than 800 youth in Indiana since its founding. Graduates have attended college, entered the nursing profession, worked in church ministries, enlisted in the military, operated their own businesses and raised families. Some of them may look back at the expulsion that brought them to TROY as a stroke of good luck.
The secret? Again, partly it is a focus on the student, without the myriad distractions that seem to have confused the public schools with their funding system that counts heads rather than hearts. The TROY faculty measures its success solely on the student’s progress in learning the skills to become a successful, working adult.
Mostly, though, it is that the students have chosen to be there. They have taken responsibility for their own future. Few of these graduates have a normal home life, and some do not have real homes. Nonetheless, students stay at TROY for four years and get their diplomas. They are young men and women who show the kind of drive, personal initiative and achievement that you would expect from students at a higher caliber institution.
An astute employer might view theirs as a degree from a school of particularly hard knocks, one that identifies the kind of graduate who becomes a self-motivated employee unlikely to take small achievements and opportunities for granted.
“Over the years we realized that we knew of kids long before they appeared in front of a judge and were ordered into the program,” director Nicole Trier said. “We decided there was no reason to wait until a child was headed to a courtroom. We can identify children who are on that path — often simply because the public school system is not a fit — and break cycles of poverty, abuse, addiction and struggle before they are able to repeat themselves.
The center, with an annual operating budget of $275,000, will work this summer to raise $35,000 in scholarships to meet increasing enrollment as word of the school’s success spreads. If the fund drive is successful, the school will send an additional seven qualified graduates into the Indiana job pool rather than leave that same number dependent on welfare or in various tax-funded social and correctional programs.
And that doesn’t cost, as they say, it pays.