Anthony didn't plan to graduate from high school. For as long as he can remember, his plan was to drop out of school as soon as he reached the legal dropout age.
Yet, he was one of six students to graduate from Dakota Memorial School (DMS) in May, and he gave a commencement speech during the ceremony. It was a proud moment for Anthony. "All the things I've been through, I never really thought I'd graduate," he said.
Anthony's graduation was a dream come true for his parents an older brother. For Anthony, graduation was proof he can do and accomplish more than he even dared to dream.
As a child, Anthony's struggles with extreme depression and anxiety made it difficult for him to connect with his teachers and peers. He couldn't focus on his work and was getting farther and farther behind. In 5th grade, Anthony reached his breaking point and refused to go to school. He was home-schooled for a while, but he said it didn't work out.
After spending two weeks in the hospital for treatment of his anxiety and depression, Anthony was given the option of attending DMS or going back to the school he came from. He chose DMS, but made it very clear he didn't have to like it.
"I remember the first day I was at DMS. I bawled my eyes out and didn't stop until I got home. I didn't want to come here," Anthony said.
Gail Lundy, Day Student Coordinator at DMS, Minot, said at first Anthony didn't even want to go to the lunchroom. "He was just so uncomfortable with the socialization and all the people," Lundy said. "It took some time for Anthony to be comfortable here. He put up a wall and wouldn't talk. He would just sit there and do nothing. Now, Anthony has built good relationships with several staff, and he is well-liked by his peers and teachers. He is in the lunchroom every day."
Anthony now says he was wrong about not wanting to attend DMS. "As I started getting to know people and build myself up a little bit, I started to like it here. Staff give us time to pull ourselves back together and continue in the classroom. The teachers are patient. When you don't feel like doing anything and don't want to talk—I call them shutdowns—they let you regroup and come back when you are ready."
Over time, Ranch teachers and staff learned to identify the signs that Anthony was heading towards a shutdown—signs like withdrawing from teachers and friends, refusing to do everyday tasks, or wanting to sleep to avoid social interaction.
"We watch Anthony and can recognize if he is off and may be struggling with depression and anxiety. He is diabetic, so we also monitor that," Lundy said. "We work with him and come up with a balance while still keeping him accountable. If he starts missing school, we call Mom and Dad right away as that is the start of his cycle and any shutdowns. His parents have been wonderful and so willing to do what is best for Anthony."
Garrison Public Schools, Anthony's sending school, has also been very supportive. At one point, Anthony transitioned back to Garrison, but everyone soon realized Anthony would be more successful at DMS.
"It was this wonderful partnership [DMS, Garrison Public School, Anthony, and his parents] that made it possible for Anthony to be here, where he could keep learning and graduate," said Tina DeGree, principal at DMS, Minot. "Typically, students are with us a short time before transitioning back to their home school. In rare cases, especially with Day Students like Anthony, DMS is the best place for a child to learn, so they stay with us until they graduate."
Anthony is grateful for the chance he had to attend DMS, and the many changes he has been able to make in his life.
"Ever since I was a little kid, I had a speech impediment. English [class at DMS] helped me progress my skill into not having the speech impediment. I learned how to write essays and stories," Anthony said. "I was never good at Math, but the teachers here started helping me. I was reluctant at first, but as the questions got harder, I pushed myself to figure it out. Turns out, I like pushing myself in that way. It makes me feel good inside. This place gave me a chance to learn and to be good with myself. It gave me a chance to grow and make myself new."
Anthony has excelled in many areas since arriving at DMS seven years ago. Lundy said he made the Honor Roll several times, was Student of the Quarter, and participated in Student Council. When another Garrison student started attending DMS, Anthony played the role of a Big Brother, giving him pointers and advice and telling him how DMS has helped him.
"He is a really good role model for other kids," Lundy said.
A promising future
Anthony wants to make a difference.
"I see myself prospering as a new me," Anthony said. "Just by getting out there, helping other people who really need it. The school helped me, and now I want to give back to people who are going through what I was going through."
As for career plans, Anthony wants to become an independent carpenter like his dad. "I like to do different jobs like plumbing or fixing a wall or just building something. I think it runs in the family," Anthony said. "My father works for different companies as a carpenter. He travels all over the place and fixes things that are broke—things another contractor tried to fix but made it worse."
Anthony said he learned a lot of things at DMS that will help him in his dream to be a carpenter. In addition to the math and writing skills he'll use in a career in carpentry, Anthony took shop classes where he learned and practiced framing, plumbing, sheetrocking, electrical work, and more.
"This place is wonderful," Anthony said. "They help you through your toughest times. They are patient and slowly work with you. All I have to say is it's a very wonderful place to be. I'm going to miss it."
Read more stories like this and explore other issues of Ranch Voice here.