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How one student turned her life around and got back on track to graduate

*Due to the sensitive nature of this story, the student’s name has been changed.

After the way her experience in high school had worked out so far, the last thing 17-year-old Jasmine* planned to do was listen. Not to her teachers, not to her family, and especially not to anyone who told her she wasn’t smart enough.

Sometimes all she could do was block out the world with her music.

“Whenever I couldn’t focus or I was upset, I just played the piano because it’s hard to focus on anything else when you’re playing an instrument,” Jasmine said, recalling how difficult it used to be when she struggled in class.

Attending public high school in Prescott Valley was challenging since the very first day and never let up. At age 14, Jasmine was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Medication didn’t seem to help at all, and she struggled to try to focus on a computer screen long enough to stay focused on assignments that involved her computer or typing. To make matters worse, halfway through her sophomore year, she had knee surgery and couldn’t get around campus easily. She soon fell behind and started hating school.

Finding another solution…

Before it would get better, it would get worse.

She tried an online school, but felt she didn’t learn anything because she considered the material too easy. By the time she turned 17, she was living part time between two homes many miles apart from the other due to family circumstances and all but convinced she was on track to drop out with little hope of graduating. Her support network was also gone, as she wasn’t able to attend an area high school and wasn’t making new friends. She was homesick being away from her mom and struggling to sleep at night.

“It was hard not to just want to sleep all day because of how I felt,” she said, recalling the difficulty of her circumstances.

As her 18th birthday drew closer and Jasmine all but ‘knew’ she wouldn’t earn her high school diploma,  she enrolled at Primavera Online High School. The online format not only appealed to her interests and challenged her, but made it possible for her to enroll while she was living and moving back and forth with different members of her family.

It was at Primavera Online High School that she found someone who was not only worth listening to, but who also seemed to hear her in return. And soon things started to change.

It all began with Mr. Forrett’s English class.

Mr. Steve Forrett, English teacher

“When I started at Primavera, I didn’t know what to expect. After the first day I told my mom, ‘Mom, I actually like this!’” Jasmine later recalled. “In English in public school, usually we read the most boring, irrelevant things. It’s awful! But I like the classes at Primavera because you read things that aren’t super boring. They’re interesting. I like Primavera because it’s a way for me to get into what I’m learning about.”

Mr. Forrett, a veteran teacher who has taught hundreds of students during his decade with Primavera, says the difference, to him, is that he saw Jasmine as a person, not just a student. He was determined to stick with her and keep her engaged through interesting content and constructive feedback. “She was a good student, but one recurring error in a particular assignment caught my eye” Forrett recalled.

In one of her writing assignments, he noticed that she used lowercase “i”’s when referring to herself in the first person. Normally, he would attribute failing to capitalize an “i” when talking about oneself as lazy writing. But in this case, because he had gotten to know her and her circumstances, he realized it represented something deeper with her. It wasn’t just a grammatical error.

“Her “i” was lowercase not because she was lazy, but because she felt that way about herself that day,” Forrett explained. “The lowercase “i” just wouldn’t matter to her that day.”

Instead of simply letting it go and marking it incorrect, Mr. Forrett talked to her about it and helped her understand how small improvements in her writing could make big differences in her grades. With the right encouragement, he found ways to get through to her.

“I believe in you, Jasmine!” He told her. “You have proven yourself through the work you’ve been turning in in my class, and it proves that you are an intelligent young person! You are able to do the work that’s in these classes! You are more than capable!”

Jasmine wasn’t used to hearing that. She had not been told very often that she was a smart student.

But when people started believing in her like that, no wonder she started listening. And that has made all the difference.

Those small efforts in Mr. Forrett’s English class are paying off. Jasmine now has a path to achieving her goal of graduating on time, thanks to a unique learning environment and caring teachers that made it possible for her to hear the voice inside herself telling her she was good enough all along.

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