Once lost, Brunswick student finds her way to graduation
BRUNSWICK — Part way through her junior year in high school, Nicole LaChance found herself mired in a place from which some kids never escape.
LaChance was fed up with school, the drama, the snickering every time she raised her hand to ask a question.
Worse, LaChance was falling off the graduation path. Way off.
"I was ready to drop out," she said. "I was sick of school. I was like, screw the world. Every time I raised my hand for help, I knew kids were saying, 'She's stupid.' "
LaChance said the feeling was like being in a hole, which is a long way from where she'll be Friday night when she climbs the stage at Farley Field House to accept her high school diploma. LaChance will be among 252 graduates from Brunswick High School in the 7 p.m. ceremony.
But few of LaChance's classmates will have taken the path she has to graduation. Few will have come so far, in such a short span of time.
"It's pretty scary to think about it," LaChance said of her unlikely journey.
By the early half of her junior year, LaChance's learning difficulties encountered a head-on collision with her home life. Her father, Anthony Brown, had suffered his second heart attack. Her grandmother, who LaChance described as her second mother, was also ill.
"With all that going on, I was so distracted at school," LaChance said.
And LaChance couldn't afford to lose focus. Math and science, her toughest subjects, were becoming impossible.
"I would just stare at (algebra problems)," she said. "I hoped it would somehow get itself done."
The problems didn't solve themselves, they just kept adding up. By the first quarter of her junior year, LaChance was failing every class. She had just eight credits in two years. She needed 21 credits to graduate.
"I kept think about how far I had to go," she said. "And I didn't think I could do it anymore."
She was the child left behind, and no standardized testing, no additional help, could rescue her.
LaChance told her mother she was going to drop out. Word spread to her one of her teachers, who then told Scott Bradley, a guidance counselor at the high school.
Bradley convinced LaChance to apply to the Union Street School, an alternative learning program for students who need a different path to graduation. The school, which adds a physical education component to its curriculum for team-building, will be moving to Hawthorne School next year.
LaChance was accepted to the program last fall. She credits the school and its teachers with helping her find a way out of the hole.
"There's no drama at Union Street," she said. "At the high school there's 20 or 30 kids in a class. Here there's more one-on-one time. There's always deadlines at the high school. At Union Street they actually have time to work with you."
In addition to taking advantage of extra instruction time, LaChance benefited from Union Street's partnership with the Riverview Foundation in Topsham. The foundation uses martial arts as a teaching and coping mechanism, which LaChance said, was particularly helpful when her academic or social frustrations began mounting.
The foundation also conducts three-day wilderness excursions to places like The Forks area, where Union Street students go canoeing and camping. LaChance said the wilderness trip was particularly eye-opening for her.
"You really get to know your classmates," she said. "Before (the trip) I didn't really know any of them. I wasn't an open person at the high school. But when you're stuck out there in the woods, you really have to talk to people. I found out that there are some really awesome people at Union Street."
Just as important, LaChance said, she found out she wasn't the only one who needed a little help. She wasn't alone.
"Nobody makes you feel stupid for asking questions," she said. "I'd always heard Union Street was a place for bad kids. But it's not like that at all. They help you a lot, and I've made a lot of good friends."
LaChance isn't sure what she'll do after graduation, maybe become a veterinarian or child care professional. But one thing is certain, she'll always remember the time when she wanted to give up, but didn't.
"It's pretty amazing to think about how far behind I was and where I am now," she said.