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Graduating early helps teens find the right path

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Center Grove and Clark-Pleasant next week will celebrate the graduation of students who almost didn’t finish high school.

On Thursday, 26 students will graduate from the Center Grove and Clark-Pleasant alternative academies, which the districts created for students who weren’t succeeding in traditional high school courses.

Along with finishing high school, some of the students also were dealing with homelessness, had become parents or were unable to focus in class or get help with assignments.

Three of this month’s graduates shared their stories. None is certain what comes next for them and whether that involves college or a job, but this week they’re celebrating receiving their diplomas.

Meranda Petosky

When a Michigan student moved with her mom to the Center Grove area in the fall, she thought it might be her last chance to earn a high school diploma.

Meranda Petosky grew up in Lansing, Mich., and as a middle and high school student had problems focusing and doing well in class.

Part of the problem was that when she didn’t understand a lesson, Petosky said, she didn’t know whom to turn to for help. Neither of her parents was a high school graduate, and she didn’t want to risk asking questions in class that everyone else might know the answer to.

“I just ignored homework. I avoided help and trying,” she said.

Petosky tried telling herself it wouldn’t be a problem if she didn’t graduate, but she never quite believed it. She had seen how both of her parents struggled, especially her mother, who had to work two or three jobs at a time to support Petosky and her three younger sisters.

She also worried what her family would think of her if she didn’t graduate.

Petosky, 18, has a cousin the same age, and they both were expected to graduate high school last spring. Petosky said she worried that if she didn’t complete high school her family might start looking down on her and that she’d always be reminded of what she couldn’t do.

Her mother moved to the Center Grove area in September, bringing Petosky and two of her sisters with her. Petosky enrolled at the high school and immediately applied to the alternative academy. She told them she had missed her original graduation date in the spring but wanted to earn her diploma.

Petosky needed to complete eight classes. Because her classmates at the alternative academy were working on their own courses, it was easier for her to stay focused, she said. She also was able to get more one-on-one help than she had received at her school in Michigan, she said.

“I knew I would come back and finish, but I didn’t know it would be this soon,” she said.

After graduation, Petosky plans to return to Lansing to live with her dad and start taking community college classes. She knows those classes might be closer to traditional high school courses than the alternative academy courses.

That means her problems with focusing could return. But she also wants to keep the momentum she gained by completing high school going, she said.

Haley Darland

As soon as she found out she was going to be a mother, Center Grove student Haley Darland started telling herself that graduating high school wasn’t going to happen, at least not anytime soon.

School had always been difficult for her, Darland said, largely because she often needed extra help to understand what she was being taught in her classes. A C typically was the highest grade she earned in a class. So when she found out in July 2011 that she was pregnant with son Liam, she decided she wouldn’t be able to finish high school.

Darland assumed she would go back to earn her GED in a few years, but beyond that she didn’t have a plan for how she and her boyfriend would make a living for their son.

Liam was born in February, a month before his due date, and had health problems that kept him in the hospital for a month. Darland had to wait a week before she could hold her baby, and she continued to doubt she had time for high school.

“I needed time with my son, and I couldn’t do that going to school eight hours a day,” she said.

But Darland didn’t drop out, and in the spring she applied to the district’s alternative academy.

The academy’s computer-based program allowed Darland to complete her schoolwork and still have time during the day for work and to take care of Liam. She was able to get more individual help than she often got in her regular high school classes.

“So if it was a silly question, I wouldn’t really be embarrassed or anything,” she said.

Darland is graduating a semester earlier than she would have, and for now she has no immediate plans other than continuing to work for a local supermarket deli.

One day, she wants to pursue a career involving photography or art, but for now she’s focused on motherhood.

“There’s a few things I would love to do. I don’t know if college is first on my list of things to do right now,” she said. “I’m just figuring it out. Taking my time.”

Dustin Smock

As a Whiteland Community High School student and his family moved from a house to a mobile home and then on to the couches of friends and family, he slowly gave up on the idea of graduating.

Dustin Smock wanted to graduate and hadn’t had any problems with school during his freshman year. But during the past four years, his family struggled financially to support Smock, 20, and his three siblings.

Smock said he had trouble coping with the family’s moves, which made it difficult for him to focus on school.

“I’d have to say, it put me through a depression. A deep depression,” he said.

Smock’s family was evicted from their home in Whiteland when he was 16, and they then moved into a mobile home in Greenwood. The new home didn’t have a lot of room for six people and had holes in the floor that were never fixed — repairs typically involved throwing a board over the holes to cover them, Smock said.

Two years later, Smock’s family was evicted from the mobile home, his parents divorced, and he and his brothers and sister went to stay with different family members and friends.

Smock spent the next seven months on a friend’s couch. To deal with the depression, he tried to talk with friends, but none of them were having the same kinds of problems he was. He also started rapping and wrote the song “Been Through It All,” which detailed pressures he felt.

Smock felt guilty he didn’t have a job and wasn’t providing for the family. With all that was happening in his life, he wasn’t spending time on homework for his classes.

About a year and a half ago, an assistant principal at Whiteland recommended Smock enroll in the Clark-Pleasant Academy.

Smock wasn’t sure the

alternative academy was what he needed — he’d taken a virtual lab before and found it was too easy to get distracted. But he also knew he had no other realistic chance of finishing high school without it.

The alternative academy’s online lessons were easier to focus on and understand than he expected, he said. He also found people to speak with at the academy who were dealing with similar life problems, he said.

He completed 21 classes in the past year and a half.

Now that he has his diploma, Smock plans to attend Ivy Tech Community College so he can raise his grade-point average and, hopefully, get into a four-year college. He’s hoping he’ll be able to find a career working in electronics or with homeland security.

“It feels amazing,” he said. “I’m so ready for it, to start the real life.”


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