High-schoolers choose the alternative

9 graduating seniors decide to acknowledge the program that helped them turn their school careers around

May 28, 2006|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The idea was to stay as short a time as possible.

Many students enrolled in the county's alternative education program ended up there because of difficulties - from academic to disciplinary - at their high school. Often the plan is to get back on track and return to their original school.

But several seniors have opted to graduate from the program rather than with their former classmates at their previous schools, attributing the strides they have made to their positive experience in the program.

"The people here have been so good to me," said Brittany Adkins, one of nine students who will take part in the program's first graduation Friday. "It feels so great to be graduating. I want to receive my diploma in front of people that helped me earn it."

The program, which was offered only at night when it began about 15 years ago, started offering day classes for the first time this fall after receiving a boost in funding. Now, with a more traditional schedule, students are developing an affinity for the program, which is housed at the Center for Educational Opportunity in Aberdeen.

"Many of the students feel like this is their home school," said Mark Buzminsky, who has been principal for five years. "So I think if they want to graduate from here, then we should let them."

Said David Volrath, executive director of secondary education for county schools, "We never had students for an extended period of time. We didn't know if the students would come out of it more aligned with their home schools or if they would develop a kinship with the teachers and students that are part of the alternative education program."

The ceremony will include comments from each of the seniors and will be followed by a luncheon. In addition to Adkins, the graduating class includes Brittany Cooper, 16; Lisa Huynh, 16; Amber Johnson, 17; Kaleigh Moffitt, 18; Jessica Senkbeil, 18; Ronny Vega, 17; Roxanne Wenger, 17; and Julia Leonard, 17.

About 200 students have taken courses through the program this year. They come for a variety of reasons, including failing grades, suspension, difficulty adjusting to the high school environment and discipline or behavior problems.

The program is voluntary, and many of the students attend for a short time and then return to their home school. But in some cases, students elect to complete their education through the program.

"Many of the students that we have in this program are on their own and they have to work," Buzminsky said. "This program is the only thing between them and dropping out of high school."

Adkins is emblematic of the students that make up the inaugural graduating class. She almost chose a path that likely wouldn't have taken her near any graduation ceremony.

While a student at Fallston High School, she failed some of her 10th-grade classes not once, but twice. There was no way she was returning for a third time.

She went to drop out of school, and a guidance counselor told her about the alternative program that offered smaller class sizes, four-day weeks and one-on-one help with schoolwork.

"I thought it was better than dropping out, so I signed up," the Bel Air resident said.

Adkins went on to earn a 3.6 grade point average and complete the requirements for graduation.

Lisa Huynh, 17, had a similar experience. After being suspended from Aberdeen High, she chose to attend the program rather than drop out. She quickly took to the environment and the staff.

"The teachers made me feel like they cared about my education," Huynh said. "It made an enormous difference in my life. When I leave here, I am going on to college, and that happened not just because I worked hard, but also because the people here cared about my education."

Huynh's experience serves to validate what the graduation represents, Volrath said.

"Many of the kids come into the program after losing hope because the people around them gave up on them in many cases," said Volrath. "These students that will graduate next week leave the program believing in themselves and knowing that if they work hard they can succeed. That's what graduation is all about."

Buzminsky asked the teachers to write a piece of advice or wisdom on slips of paper that will be placed in ceramic jars and given to the seniors after the ceremony.

"My advice to the students is to remember that their purpose in life is to serve others," Buzminsky said.

That's just the type of thing that made the decision of where to graduate an easy one for Adkins.

"I can't imagine graduating from anywhere else but this place," Adkins said.

GRADUATION DAYS

Graduation schedule for the Harford County Class of 2006

Tuesday

C. Milton Wright: 1 p.m., Towson Center at Towson University; speaker: Mark Anticole; 436 grads

Joppatowne: 6 p.m., Joppatowne High Football Field; 224 grads

Aberdeen: 6:30 p.m., Aberdeen High Gymnasium; speaker: NASA Administrator Michael Griffin; 276 grads

Wednesday

Fallston: 1 p.m., Towson Center; speakers: selected seniors; 382 grads

Edgewood: 6 p.m., Edgewood High Auditorium; speakers: senior class officers; 270 grads

North Harford: 6 p.m., Aberdeen High; 322 grads

Thursday

Bel Air: 1 p.m., Towson Center; speakers: selected seniors; 386 grads

Havre de Grace: 7 p.m., Havre de Grace Auditorium; speakers: selected seniors; 128 grads

Friday

Alternative Education: 10 a.m., Center for Educational Opportunity; speaker: Robert McKee; 11 grads

John Archer: 1:15 p.m., John Archer School; three grads

Harford Technical High School: 5:30 p.m., William H. Amoss Performing Arts Center; speakers: selected seniors; 240 grads

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