Special Report
College & Workforce Readiness

Anxiety and Isolation Kept Him Out of School. How an Alternative Program Helped

By Sarah D. Sparks — August 29, 2022 3 min read
Blaine Franzel, 17, and his mother, Angel Franzel, pictured at their home in Stuart, Fla., on Aug. 15, 2022. After struggling during remote learning and dropping out of public school, Franzel is now thriving at an alternative school where he is learning about aviation.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

After years of worsening anxiety that kept him from school, Blaine Franzel’s prospects for high school graduation are finally looking up.

Blaine, 17, is one of more than a third of U.S. high school students whose mental health problems worsened during the pandemic. Flexibility, compassion, and hands-on learning have helped him regain ground after a year of isolation and lost learning.

Blaine was diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder as a child, but maintained good grades and strong friendships through 8th grade in his small Alabama hometown. That started to come undone even before the pandemic, when the family moved to Florida in August 2019.

“Blaine was only in the high school for less than a week when he got sick, and then he was out of school for a week … and I could never get him to walk back into the high school after that,” said Angel Franzel, Blaine’s mom.

Blaine puts it more bluntly: “I sort of had a breakdown when we moved and I didn’t go to school for the first six months I was signed up for regular school.”

For the rest of the 2019-20 school year, Blaine found it harder and harder to leave his room as he bounced from his large comprehensive high school to the online-only Florida Virtual Academy and Connections Academy.

“He failed classes in both of those. He just couldn’t do it. He wasn’t there emotionally to do it and get the grades, which was very difficult for our household because he was a good student where we came from,” Angel Franzel said.

“The pandemic made things worse for him, because he was already having a hard time with leaving the house because of the anxiety and depression that had hit him so hard,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate more than 1 in 3 teenagers experienced worsening mental health during the pandemic, with more than 40 percent reporting persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Educators who work with adolescents warn mental health issues have put more students at risk of disengaging from school.

By what should have been 10th grade, Blaine moved to Spectrum Academy, an alternative school where he said teachers have helped him gradually return to class—first virtually, and now in-person two to three days a week.

“They have a lot of group conversations in class, but they’ve spent a lot of time just working with him individually and encouraging him individually to get into class,” Angel Franzel said.

Weekly check-ins with a school counselor, very small classes, and day-to-day schedule flexibility have helped him re-engage, Blaine said.

Blaine Franzel, 17, pictured at his home in Stuart, Fla., on Aug. 15, 2022. After struggling during remote learning and dropping out of public school, Franzel is now thriving at an alternative school where he is learning about aviation.

“I don’t have much trouble in just the pure academic aspect. It’s more about me going,” Blaine said. “Classes aren’t set in stone [as to] when you have to do them. If you need to, you can do it later. You can do it earlier. … If you’re feeling stressed, feeling overwhelmed, feeling tired, you can go walk around for a little bit and get some fresh air in the courtyard and then come back in … which helps me a lot during my class time.”

Blaine said his turning point came last school year, when Spectrum Principal Janice Mills helped him join a two-year aviation assembly certification program, a partnership between the school and the community nonprofit Project LIFT.

“Last year, we went over the history of aviation from the start to the finish, and because of that, I started going more ‘cause I wanted to do that as my career path,” he said. Blaine is on track to graduate in December, after spending this fall completing his last three credits and helping to build a single-engine airplane.

“My dad’s an aircraft mechanic. My cousin is a propulsion engineer in the Air Force. So, that’s just what my family does,” he said.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Pave the Path to Excellence in Math
Empower your students' math journey with Sue O'Connell, author of “Math in Practice” and “Navigating Numeracy.”
Content provided by hand2mind
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Combatting Teacher Shortages: Strategies for Classroom Balance and Learning Success
Learn from leaders in education as they share insights and strategies to support teachers and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Reading Instruction and AI: New Strategies for the Big Education Challenges of Our Time
Join the conversation as experts in the field explore these instructional pain points and offer game-changing guidance for K-12 leaders and educators.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

College & Workforce Readiness Spotlight Spotlight on Career Readiness & Technology
This Spotlight will help you learn about workforce readiness after-school programs, the benefits of virtual work-based learning, and more.
College & Workforce Readiness What's Next for AP? 4 Takeaways From a College Board Official
In a recent interview with Education Week, the head of the Advanced Placement program discussed a variety of priorities and principles.
3 min read
Trevor Packer, head of the College Board’s AP Program speaks at the AP Annual Conference in Seattle, Wash. on July 20, 2023.
Trevor Packer, the head of the College Board’s AP program, speaks at the organization's annual conference in Seattle in July.
Ileana Najarro/Education Week
College & Workforce Readiness Opinion What We Lose With the End of Affirmative Action
My own path to higher education demonstrates the importance of reaching out to students of all backgrounds, writes a Harvard medical student.
David Velasquez
5 min read
Illustration of hands and puzzle pieces.
DigitalVision Vectors / Getty
College & Workforce Readiness What the Research Says Pandemic High School Grads Are Sticking With College. States Want to Make Sure They Finish
Students' college persistence rates are back to what they were before COVID hit.
7 min read
Harvard University freshman Daniela Andrade on campus October 12, 2021 in Cambridge, Mass.
Harvard University freshman Daniela Andrade on campus Oct. 12, 2021, in Cambridge, Mass.
Angela Rowlings for Education Week