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David, 17, says he changed elementary and middle schools each time his mother moved. After bouncing around in Indianapolis and other cities, he was “way behind” by the time he reached 6th grade.A teacher at one school arranged one-onone help for him in English and science, but it phased out before he felt he was ready.
“They wanted me to catch myself up at that point,” David recalls. “They said they just couldn’t spend that much time on me.”
By his junior year of high school, he couldn’t sustain interest in school. His report cards featured mostly D’s and F’s. He was making a nice wage in the construction trade, and smoking pot and drinking Jack Daniel’s with friends, he says. All seemed preferable to going to school.
A counselor set up some after-school tutoring for David—telling him, David recounts, he shouldn’t waste “the good head on his shoulders.” But he went only one day. “I messed up,” he says. “I made a mistake. I was too rebellious.”
He fell further behind, and when he thought about catching up, it seemed like too much to manage. No one else in his family had ever graduated from high school, and he “saw school as a had-to.”
Concluding there was no point in spending time in school when he could earn a solid living by working, he dropped out in 11th grade.
David and his girlfriend had a baby last year, and are expecting another one in June.
But now he’s enrolled at Pacers Academy, an Indianapolis alternative school where he can complete his credits in a self-paced, computerbased program while he works as a floor installer to support his family. He is on track to graduate this spring.
He says it’s hard to stay in school, because every hour there represents lost income. But he is determined to be the first in his family to finish high school. He aims then to go on to college to become an architect.
“Not going to college keeps me separate from being somebody,” David says. “And I want to make it so that my daughter might look up at me and say, ‘Daddy has a degree.’ ”
Student Portrait by Tom Strickland for Education Week