Two years ago, Chris Hribek will tell you, his high school career was a disaster with failing grades, attendance issues and a big attitude problem.
Back in the 11th grade, Chris said, he hated school. He was bullied in middle school and often found himself defending his younger brother with autism.
“I would just sleep in class and didn’t care. I was going through depression and I didn’t get along with the teachers,” Chris says. “I was kind of a jerk to a lot of people there and it kind of spiraled out of control.”
That’s when he decided to get a fresh start. He talked his parents into letting him transfer from another district to Comstock Park High School’s Career Academy. The smaller, less competitive setting just might right his sinking academic ship, he thought.
Thanks to some tough love by teachers at the Career Academy and a new attitude toward school, Chris got his diploma this spring. Now he’s thinking about going to Grand Rapids Community College to learn welding.
Dad Craig Hribek said he was surprised by the request. “Usually kids don’t want to leave their friends in their senior year,” he says. He consented to the transfer after Chris pledged to renew his efforts to get a diploma.
When he arrived at the Career Academy, Assistant Principal Tony Petkus urged Chris to stop by his office to blow off steam or have lunch whenever he needed a break.
Kim Pfeiffer, a veteran teacher at the Career Academy, also took Chris under his wing and worked with his dad to hold him accountable for attendance. If he didn’t show up for class, Chris’ dad would get a phone call from Pfeiffer and Chris would show up.
Although Chris tried to return to his old ways of sleeping in class and not turning in homework, Pfeiffer would have none of it. When he fell asleep in class, Pfeiffer woke him up, he said. They developed a plan to get Chris the credits he would need to graduate. If the plan failed, they would draw up a new plan.
“I am somewhat of a taskmaster, but I do it in sort of a benevolent way,” says Pfeiffer. “He was not going to succeed on his own. But we got it through Chris’s head that he needed to step up. And, failing at something means we had to take another course of action.”
Chris says he changed his attitude when he realized graduation was going to come only if he put in the effort himself.
“The only person who can help you is yourself and you have to realize that for yourself,” says Chris, who finished his coursework last December. He got a job as a convenience store clerk and recently bought a used Chevy Impala that he hopes to take to classes at Grand Rapids Community College.
Pfeiffer says Chris learned to take responsibility for his life. “One of the difficulties with students – and Chris in particular – is there’s always something that doesn’t get done. That just doesn’t cut it. You don’t want to be that person who makes excuses all the time.”
The future is bright for Chris, says Pfeiffer. “He’s going to make a very loyal and dedicated employee for someone.”