For one Whiteland student getting his high school diploma this spring, graduation is coming a year late.

Brandon Wells fell behind in his classes due to a divorce in the family, and he says his time at one of the alternative education academies in Johnson County helped him get back on track and graduate high school. The academies focus on helping students get past obstacles that may have otherwise prevented them from graduating.

At the Clark-Pleasant Academy in Whiteland, 38 students received high school diplomas this year. The academy has a graduation rate of 95 percent, which is above the national average of 82 percent, a school news release said.

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We spoke to Wells and four other alternative academy students from the Center Grove area, Whiteland and Franklin about their plans for college, what it took for them to earn their high school diploma and what that achievement means for them.

Brandon Wells

When Wells’ parents divorced in 2013, he at first found it hard to cope with the stress. Motivation was difficult to come by. He missed classes at Whiteland Community High School and ended up not earning any of his credits during his sophomore year.

Wells credits his time at the Clark-Pleasant Academy with helping him get back on track and graduate, and he is now considering attending Ivy Tech to study to become a firefighter.

“It meant the world for me to come over here,” he said.

The academy was the second chance that he needed.

“My parents split up and it hit me real hard,” he said. “I had to step up a lot and grow up real quick. I was struggling. I was giving up on everything when my parents split. I just kind of lost interest in everything.”

Both his older brother and sister had previously gone through the academy, so Wells was familiar with the program.

“It’s like a family, not a school,” Wells said.

He said the class schedule at the academy, which was mostly in the afternoon, worked better for him.

“They push us to strive for the best,” he said.

At 19 years old, he is earning his diploma one year behind schedule, but is excited about the opportunities it will create for him.

“It opens doors that you can’t get in without a diploma,” Wells said.

Wells said that he has always wanted to serve his community. He considered the military instead of becoming a firefighter, but that isn’t an option because he has diabetes.

Joshua Wagner

Now that Joshua Wagner has his high school diploma, he has a clear plan for how the next few years of his life will play out.

He’s got a job with an Indianapolis area graphic design company, will be attending Ivy Tech this fall to study graphic design and plans to start his own business once he graduates.

Wagner attended the Clark-Pleasant Academy for his senior year of high school as it was the only way he could fit his regular high school classes with the studying he was doing at the Central Nine Career Center, which provides technical classes for high school students. He would go to classes at Central Nine in the morning and come to the academy for the rest of his work in the afternoon.

Wagner began attending Central Nine his junior year of high school to take visual communications classes, which included graphic design.

A cousin who had also attended Central Nine recommended the graphic design course because of Wagner’s interest in car wraps, customs designs that get placed on the exterior of cars and trucks, often for advertising.

The career choice was a simple one for Wagner.

“I’m making money doing something I like,” he said.

Wagner has been accepted into Ivy Tech and is ready to sign up for classes. Federal student aid will pay for at least his first year of college, and his job will cover the remaining costs.

He began working at TKO Graphics in Plainfield earlier this month, a job that will help give him practical experience as he goes through his classes at Ivy Tech.

Wagner has already been studying how to start a small-business, and credits his teachers with giving him advice and offering support toward that goal.

Kasey Arbuckle

Kasey Arbuckle hasn’t made up her mind yet as to what she wants to study in college, but hopes her first semester at Ivy Tech will help guide her in that decision.

She spent the final semester of her high school career attending classes at the Center Grove Alternative Academy. The class schedule at the academy gave her more time to work and save for college.

Arbuckle is considering studying nutrition or meteorology. She’s going to start off by taking her general studies classes at Ivy Tech for a semester, which will save money and help her decide on which route she should go with.

Environmental science, advanced nutrition and chemistry were some of the classes that inspired her to consider those careers.

Delivering news about the weather on TV has long been an interest for her.

“I’ve always wanted to be a newscaster on the TV,” she said. “I’ve thought about that since third grade.”

Having worked at a nursing home for several years and having a interest in healthy food and living has also made her consider a career in nutrition or dietetics.

Arbuckle has been working at a nursing home since she was 16, and had been saving a portion of that for college.

She plans to use a combination of student loans, savings and scholarships to pay for college.

“It gave me a good insight of what it would be like after graduation,” she said.

The classes at the academy allowed her to work more hours and build up her savings for college, Arbuckle said.

“I’m excited for the future,” she said. “I was kind of ready to get past this point in my life and start a new chapter.”

Mariah Johnson

Mariah Johnson wants to take after her mother with her career choice.

Johnson wants to study to become a nurse, with the goal of working in a local hospital. A desire to help people as well as take after her mother is what led Johnson to that choice.

“My mom’s a nurse, and she loves it,” she said. “I always love helping people.”

The career is one she knew she was going to pursue since she was a child. Her dream job would be to work at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.

Johnson began attending Center Grove Alternative Academy last winter. A couple of her friends had attended it as well and had recommended it.

Her counselor recommended the academy as a good change for her last semester of high school because it would be a better learning environment for her. Johnson said she found the academy to be a welcoming environment that created a desire to learn.

“It’s somewhere you actually want to come and learn,” she said. “It’s like a big family over here. It’s very welcoming, and you aren’t afraid to ask for help.

Kara Fulner

For Kara Fulner, attending the Franklin Academy allowed her to take part in online classes that better fit her learning style.

During her sophomore and junior years of high school, Fulner split her coursework between attending regular and online classes at the high school. She liked the online work because it felt like she was being taught one-on-one, and it allowed her to move ahead and work at her own pace.

Fulner switched to the Franklin Academy as that allowed her to take all her classes online during her senior year.

She plans to attend Ivy Tech next fall and study special education, as a result of experiences she has had with special needs students throughout her time in school.

Her first experience with special needs students was as a fourth grade student in elementary school when several children with special needs were part of her gym class. Fulner recalled enjoying interacting with them and helping them be part of the class.

Fulner now works at Indiana Mentor, where she helps take care of adults with special needs, a decision that has re-affirmed her desire to pursue a career in that field, she said.

Brandon Wells

Name: Brandon Wells

Age: 19

School: Clark-Pleasant Academy

Post graduation plans: Attend Ivy Tech Community College and study to become an emergency medical technician or firefighter

Joshua Wagner

Name: Joshua Wagner

Age: 19

School: Clark-Pleasant Academy

Post-graduation plans: Attend Ivy Tech Community College to study graphic design.

Kasey Arbuckle

Name: Kasey Arbuckle

Age: 18

School: Center Grove Alternative Academy

Post-graduation plans: Attend Ivy Tech Community College for one-semester than transfer to Indiana University Purdue University Indiana to study nutrition or meteorology.

Mariah Johnson

Name: Mariah Johnson

Age: 18

School: Center Grove Alternative Academy

Post-graduation plans: Attend Ivy Tech Community College and study nursing.

Kara Fulner

Name: Kara Fulner

Age: 18

School: Franklin Acadamy

Post-graduation plans: Attend Ivy Tech Community College and study special needs education.

Author photo
Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.