A new chapter: ALC holds first graduation
Forty-two students turned their tassel Thursday during the first graduation ceremony held solely for Haywood County Alternative Learning Center graduates.
Seating at First Baptist Church in Waynesville was scarce when hundreds of proud friends, family and teachers packed the pews for the ceremony.
The goal of the center is to offer a learning alternative for students who have had difficulty adjusting to the regular school environment and to provide students the opportunity to modify their behavior and future decision-making. The ALC serves students in grade 7-12.
Brendalynn Farr, who plans to attend Haywood Community College to become a radio technician, said before the ceremony that she was going to miss all of the people she knew at ALC.
“Graduation is a big deal because I am the first one besides my (immediate) family to graduate,” Farr said. “The teachers, they help you in so many ways. They help you get job connections, they help you with education — anything you need they’ll be there.”
Farr attributed her high school success to the ALC.
“I came here with only four credits, and in a year and a half I gained 18,” Farr said. “Tuscola wasn’t for me.”
Lindsay Bowen, a previous graduate working as a ski instructor, traveled from Vermont to participate in the graduation ceremony.
“Graduating was a huge relief — especially after being told you’ll never get anywhere and being called dropouts,” Bowen said. “I’m definitely not a drop out.”
Kelly Futral is one of 19 siblings who was the first to graduate high school.
Futral, who admitted to struggling with depression, said she came to ALC because she was bullied at her previous school.
“I came here and it’s a totally different atmosphere,” she said. “All the drama gets taken care of right away.”
Futral said one of her brothers, Chris Howard, traveled from Mississippi just to see her graduate.
“It’s been about 10 years since I’ve seen her because I work a lot and because of school,” Howard said. “It was a long drive, but it was all worth it. I’m proud of her. I hope to get to go to her college graduation, too.”
Futral, who plans to become a certified nursing assistant, said ALC teachers had encouraged her to not give up hope. She said she felt honored to be the first sibling in her family to graduate.
“I wasn’t ready to be a dropout,” she said. “The teachers will talk to you, and you can get so much school work done. They’ll even give you gas money if that’s what you need. That’s how much they want you to graduate.”
Bowen, who hopes to one-day study special needs education, attributed her motivation to the ALC teachers. She added that her ALC teachers had been more supportive and hands on than other schools she had attended.
“They pushed me to my goals and kept working with me,” Bowen said. “They are more than teachers, they’re like your family.”
Savannah Brown, who currently is studying business through Kaplan University, traveled from Louisiana for the ceremony.
Brown, who endured a 24-hour bus ride, said being able to attend the graduation ceremony was important to her.
“When you go from a traditional high school to an alternative school, a lot is taken from you,” Brown said. “You can’t do sports, you can’t go to prom unless someone asks you — so this is like a rite of passage that we actually get to do.”
Brown said the ALC learning environment had allowed her to complete high school.
“I have severe panic disorder, so I was missing two to three classes a day because I couldn’t sit there,” Brown said. “Then I found ALC, and they enable you to do whatever you want. They cater to different learning styles. Other teachers will teach you the way they want, not how you’re comfortable doing it.”
Brandon Arrington said ALC had allowed him to work 40 hours per week and still receive his diploma. He said he plans to take business classes at HCC.
“My support has been my family, my co-workers and my teachers,” Arrington said. “The teachers — no matter what your background or issues, they will work with you can make things possible. I’m ready for the next chapter in my life.”
Arrtington’s mother, Donna, said after the ceremony that she was happy for her son.
“I’m excited for him and so proud,” Donna said. “I feel very blessed. The program here helped him graduate a year ahead and go to college. I’m very happy with ALC.”
During the ceremony, ALC director Kyle Ledford encouraged graduates to be proud of their accomplishment.
“People look at you differently when you have a high school diploma,” he said. “But you’re destiny is in your hands, and you will shape your own future.”
Teresa Vanlandingham has been a mentor for the ALC for about five years. She said ALC was helping the students and society.
“The students are not going to take from society, they’re going to contribute,” Vanlandingham said. “Everyone here is so generous and they listen. For the first time in their life, these students have someone listening to them.”
Vanlandingham said as a mentor she helped counsel and support the students.
“It’s kind of like a family where we all support one another,” Vandlandingham said. “Some of the students are pregnant or gay or lesbian, or they come from broken homes or have parents addicted to drugs and alcohol. This is some place they can go where they feel valued.”