MySchool@Kent students overcome obstacles to get to graduation

Anthony Williams made friends and excelled academically at MySchool@Kent

Students choose online high school for a variety of reasons. Here, a few of this year’s graduates reflect on why that type of learning, and the unique supports it calls for, worked for them at MySchool@Kent, a Kent ISD program that blends online learning with personal coaching.

Sarah Poort consults with MySchool@Kent coach Elizabeth Schafer
Janice Holst’s personal reflection on MySchool@Kent

The day a 10-year-old jumped into my arms and announced, “I have a grandma – a real grandma!” my life and that of my son’s family changed in ways we could not have imagined.

After 16 foster homes, an adoption that failed at the last minute, separation from two younger siblings, as well as years of abuse, it was a wonder this child had any enthusiasm left.

Diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, when he did find success or someone willing to love him, he pushed back in any way he could. Early childish misbehaviors evolved into violent fits, uncontrolled anger and eventually criminal activity — anything to prove to the family and the school that he wasn’t worth keeping.

After attending Lighthouse Academy, which is associated with the court’s juvenile detention system, he was — for good reason — not welcomed back to his home school. A stint at another district’s alternative education program lasted for a while, and a time at Kent Career Tech Center ended when he dropped out weeks before the end of the semester.

In August of 2017, he enrolled in MySchool@Kent.

School News Network reporters profile students who have made it to graduation despite hardship. When I asked MySchool@Kent for suggestions, every counselor, teacher and coach submitted his name.

It made me as proud as a real grandma can be.

Sarah Poort – Comstock Park High School

When Sarah Poort left her Maryland home to live with extended family in Michigan, adjusting was a challenge.

“I didn’t fit in here,” she said, “so I decided immediately that I wanted to do online school.” Eventually she made a few friends locally, but said it was the MySchool@Kent staff that made a difference in getting her to the finish line.

“I have a great relationship with some of the teachers here,” she said. “They took the time to get to know me, and now they are like a second family.”

Last August she became pregnant, and by March was experiencing premature labor. Even during intermittent hospital stays, she found the support she needed to continue her education.

“It is our job to keep track of where the students are,” said her coach, Elizabeth Schafer, “but Sarah did a fantastic job of managing her classes.”

Determination paid off and, with a diploma in hand, Sarah, now the mother of Douglas Scott-Jay Ursiny, has set a career goal of becoming a phlebotomist.

Anthony Williams – Ottawa Hills High School

“I was always good at school,” said Anthony Williams, who moved to West Michigan from the Saginaw-Bay City area just before middle school. “What was difficult for me, was that I had no friends and I was bullied at school.”

He was so self-conscious about his “too proper” way of speaking, he said, that he pretended to be mute. “People actually thought that I couldn’t speak,” he recalled. He tried three different schools before landing at MySchool@Kent.

“When I was allowed to work by myself, I gradually became more outgoing,” Anthony said. He has made friends now, but most importantly excelled in his studies.

While he hopes that his future eventually includes being accepted to Yale, the next step for him is to complete general education courses at Grand Rapids Community College, he said.

Kristin Harper

Kristin Harper – Northview High School

Kristin Harper said her anxiety and depression made it hard for her to go to school. It had proved difficult early on, but got worse when she started high school.

Life at home was tough. She not only spent much of her time worrying about her family, she also had to take on adult responsibilities. She started working at 16 to help with family finances, and has had to find a way to balance school with employment ever since.

“My attendance (at school) was so poor, my guidance counselor suggested that I try MySchool,” she said. Having to attend only twice a week was just the ticket for Kristin, but she points to “all the help” from the teachers as also key to her success.

She said that she may take a year off before college, but plans to spend two years at community college before heading to a university to pursue a degree in marine biology.

Stephanie Platts (courtesy photo)

Stephanie Platts – Lowell High School

Stephanie Platts found it very difficult to return to her high school after she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder following a hospital stay.

“My therapist told me about MySchool,” she said. “I thought it would be worth a try.”

That was more than two years ago, and now she is excited she was able to graduate on time.

Stephanie said that she found the teachers and coaches so caring and helpful, she actually wanted to go to school. She even attended more often than the required two days a week.

“It was completely different, and I was getting better grades,” she said. “It was a great opportunity for me.”

Her goal is to continue her education and pursue a career in early childhood development.

Brady Holst receives congratulations from MySchool@Kent coaches Theresa Truax and Doug Hicks

Brady Holst – Kent City High School

Adopted after more than a decade in the foster system, Brady Holst found it difficult adjusting to a more regular life.

Before enrolling in MySchool@Kent, he had pretty much exhausted options for obtaining a high-school diploma, from his home district, a neighboring district and even a specialized program.

“Brady is what we call a real success story,” said MySchool coach Theresa Truax. “As a staff we have discussed what childhood trauma does to make a kid at this age say, ‘I can’t do this.’ But Brady is one who figured it out. He came to us with a bad reputation, and short a lot of credits. But since he came, he pretty much has just said, ‘I have to get stuff done.’”

Brady plans to attend Grand Rapids Community College’s tooling and manufacturing technology program in the fall.

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and is thrilled to spend some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio

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