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Super Senior
My habit of cutting class meant repeating 12th grade
James Jamell Bodrick
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Names have been changed.

I thought that high school was going to be the same as junior high, but it was completely different. Junior high school was easier. It wasn’t completely up to me to succeed—I had people checking on me, making sure I passed my classes and stayed on track.

My guidance counselor, Mr. Buckley, stayed on me like white on rice. He would come to my class three times a week to see how I was doing and if I had a problem, he made sure it was history by the end of the day. I also had a very strict foster mother who didn’t tolerate bad grades, so I had clear expectations and guidance.

When I started high school, everything changed. I moved from my old foster home into a new one, and also switched schools. I went from a strict foster mother and a very caring counselor to a heartless foster mother and an aggravated, annoyed guidance counselor who seemed to take her anger out on the children she worked with.

No One to Listen

Without guidance and support, I lost track of my goal, which was to graduate from high school and become a fashion designer. I had a hard time staying focused in school because I was dealing with so much at home. I already felt neglected by my own family and now I felt neglected by my new foster mother, Carol. I am gay, and everyone in my new foster home treated me differently because of it. Carol called me a f—got when she got frustrated.

I needed someone to talk to, but there was no one. Being in foster care, in special ed, and being gay made it hard to make friends in school. Everyone seemed to have a specific group—the popular crowd, the goth crowd, the Latino crowd, the Crips, the Bloods, and so forth. Unless you were part of their group, no one paid attention to you. It seemed like I didn’t meet the criteria to fit in any group.

I tried to make my own group, but no one was interested so I ended up alone. That made me feel even worse; not only was I neglected at home, now I was neglected in school, too. I really wanted to feel a sense of belonging. I wanted to be known, to be part of something and feel important. Instead, I felt like a nobody.

Did the other kids ever feel this way? I wondered. Their self-esteem seemed high. Was there pain behind their smiles and laughter, like there was behind mine? I wanted warmth and love from someone.

Friends, With Influence

One day I was with a friend named Marisol, who I had first period with. She asked me, “Why do you stay in class every day?” I said, “Because I want to graduate.”

After class she introduced me to her friends. The next day, Marisol asked me to cut class to hang with her and the rest of the gang. I did and it was fun. We went to a toy store and to M&M World in Times Square. I had a blast. The day after that I didn’t even bother to go to class. I stayed by the classroom door until Marisol and her friends came, then we were out of there.

Soon, I was hanging out with them every day and not going to any of my classes. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t care because they were the only people who made me feel included. I’m not sure if they accepted me for who I was, or if they simply liked that I went along with them—cutting classes and running up and down the halls.

My grades started looking extremely bad. When I did come to class, I was usually out the door in less than five minutes. I’d get a pass to go to the bathroom and not come back until three minutes before the bell rang. I didn’t do my assignments, my homework, or tests.

On top of that, I was giving my teachers attitude. I figured that since I’d missed so many lessons from cutting class, what was the purpose of doing an assignment that I didn’t understand? None of it seemed to matter as long as I was part of a group.

About the time I turned 18 in the 12th grade, I realized that if I didn’t get my act together I wasn’t going to graduate. The moment of truth for me came the day I visited The Graduating Pulpit. The pulpit is actually a table they put up in the auditorium with six people, mostly counselors, sitting at it to tell you if you’ve met the standards to graduate. They told me I only had 26 credits out of the required 44, and I’d passed only two out of six exams. One lady at the table said to me, “Do I even have to say it?”

image by YC-Art Dept

Left Behind

I was upset. Somehow, my friends who’d cut with me had managed to do enough of their work that they were going to graduate, but not me. The same people I wanted love from were going to be in college next year, while I was going to be left behind in high school.

Soon after that, my birth mom had a long talk with me and my brother. I came into her house and sat down on the dark brown leather coach as she entered the room with my brother. Her face was real serious and she spoke as if she were tired of talking.

“Let me tell you something,” she said, standing there in a disciplined way, with very straight posture. “School is no game. If you don’t graduate you will have a tough life out there.” She went on about her own experiences in school. She said it hadn’t been easy for her either, but she knew what she wanted and it didn’t involve her mother (our grandmother) taking care of her.

That night when I went to bed I thought about what my mother had said. She hadn’t been there for me much and I didn’t see her often; it was mostly neglect and missed times. So to hear her share her experience and offer me advice meant a great deal to me. Her words showed me she cared and also that she’d been through it. If she had made it, I thought, why couldn’t I? I said to myself, “No more acting a fool—I’m going to go to school.”

That next day I walked into school feeling very confident. I said Hi to my friends, opened my book, and did my work. Then my friend Kumar tried to talk to me. Usually I would’ve turned around, started talking, and gotten sidetracked. But this time I said, “We can talk after class.” Saying no to him made me feel bad; I really liked him and didn’t want to be mean. I did it because I really wanted to graduate.

Back on Track

The rest of that school year went well, though I still wasn’t able to graduate. So this year I’m back at school as a “super senior.” I’m more aware of what’s required of me and I have a new attitude. Although it isn’t as fun as last year because all my friends are gone, that’s actually a good thing: All of the people I used to cut class with are far away at college, so it is easier to stay focused.

I told myself that I could still mingle at lunchtime and in gym, but other free time was going to be reserved for studying and catching up. I knew I had to spend more time in the books than in the halls, do more homework, and study more. Nothing was going to stop me from succeeding in school this year, though I knew it wouldn’t happen overnight.

I had a lot of credits to make up, which means longer school days for me this year. My school has something called P.M. School, which is a kind of night school where you can take extra classes to catch up on credits and finish more quickly. In addition to P.M. School, I go to a program that provides tutoring, quiet study time, and homework time.

The program even pays me to go, which is great, but that’s not my main motivation. I realize now that my education is something I want to do for myself. And doing better in school is making me more confident. By the end of the fall semester, I was only eight credits and one exam away from being able to graduate.

Destination and Dedication

It hasn’t been easy for me to find the right balance between socializing, schoolwork, and dealing with my personal problems at home, but I’m getting better at it. I now understand that I have to take responsibility for how I spend my time, because in high school no one babies you. When I’m tempted to fall into old habits, the main thing that comes to my mind is, “Do you want to be here another year?” When I think of it that way, it changes my whole attitude.

Something else I’ve changed is the way I approach teachers, counselors, and staff. In the past, I was more passive and didn’t ask for help before things became a crisis. Now, I check in often with teachers and counselors to make sure I’m progressing toward graduation.

One counselor who used to be cranky with me now shows me a lot more attention. She told me recently, “I notice you’re a great advocate for yourself. Many kids are not like that at your age.” She sees that I’ve matured over the years. It feels amazing to know someone has confidence in me.

It took me a long time to understand that you have to be your own advocate. I know now not to get discouraged if I get a negative reaction from teachers, staff, or family. I have the courage to stand up for myself, even if I feel ashamed that I haven’t done as well as I could have. I can make it if I have a clear view to my destination and the dedication to get there.

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(WEB-2012-03-01)

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