Following their individualized, atypical K-12 education, the 91 students graduating from Connections in 2016 are taking to equally diverse next steps.
Rich Bartolowitz sent the home school students off Thursday after finishing his first year as principal for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s largest individual program. He spent stage time spotlighting each and every soon-to-be former pupil in front a packed auditorium at Soldotna High School, whose academic accomplishments and post graduation plans often stay confined to his or her family units.
“We do things a little, no, we do things way different here at Connections,” he said.
Among the many Bartolowitz mentioned was Colton Frankhauser, who will be heading into a work as a paramedic with two years of college knocked out of the way, his peer Brittany Blaine is keeping her options open, Seward’s only graduate this year, Thomas Crump, is hoping to soon start his own audio company, and Cyrus Cowan who plans to take a gap year before jumpstarting a writing career.
Brandon Dillion who won three medals in Homer’s Special Olympics while in school, will continue to hone and refine the cooking skills his grandma began teaching him at the Alaska Vocational Technical Center.
Dillon said he likes the science that is essential for preparing good food. He for one is allergic to eggs, and through some experimentation, found the gelatin used in Jell-O is a good substitute, and even makes baked goods more moist.
“I would like to show everyone my sweet, devilish culinary treats all over the world,” Dillon said.
The senior said he finished off his high school career at home because he was bullied too much in public school, and when he went to staff and administrators for assistance, they could offer no resources. Dillion said his home turned out to be a safe place to study on a flexible schedule. He said he was glad to be around his fellow graduates Tuesday.
“It’s just good to see everyone happy and get to start their lives,” Dillon said.
Autumn Baker, a class valedictorian, she said she was sure she and her peers had been through “every coming of age story imaginable,” in their high school years. For herself, she learned one important lesson, that traveling and education are not mutually exclusive, and she plans to apply that knowledge for the rest of her life.
A fellow valedictorian, Madison Akers, said she discovered the true value of friendships and what can be taught and learned through strong relationships. She used the example of her dog Gibbs, who made an unexpected entrance into the family.
Her father and brother were meeting Akers and her mother at the airport, and everyone in the group took note of a puppy locked in a kennel near the baggage claim. As the family began to leave, her father picked up the container and started to walk out. Everyone was laughing at the joke, until they saw he was serious, and realized the small animal was a planned surprise.
One of the simplest school Gibbs gave Akers was to always remember not to make fast judgments, and always give everyone a chance, she said.
Jayce Miller, also a valedictorian, had his own lessons to instill upon his parting peers, and what he said was the key to his academic success.
“Always have fun,” Miller said.
Taking enjoyment out of each experience helped improve his performance and made tedium less commonplace, he said.
Miller said he knows full well entering the “real world,” or taking next steps can be scary. Failure is much more personal, and the only person coming up with the plan is oneself. But, it is a chance to “stop dreaming, and start doing,” and accomplish meaningful.
“And remember to smile,” he said.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.