Student receives "second chance" at charter school

Teen mother looks forward to bright future

Senior Shannon Napieralski (pictured with son Austin, 2) will beat the odds this coming June when she graduates with honors from Bay-Arenac Community High School. An estimated 70 percent of teen mothers drop out before graduating.

Shannon Napieralski refuses to become a statistic.

She is well aware that 70 percent of teen mothers drop out of school, but she will not be one of them. This coming June, Shannon will graduate from Bay-Arenac Community High School in the class of 2001.

"People expected me to become a 'deadbeat,'" she says. "Not many moms do what I'm doing. But I can't wait to graduate!"

Shannon is not only planning to finish school, but she also managed perfect attendance and all A's during much of her time at Bay-Arenac, a stark contrast to the struggling student she was before she found the school.

Bay-Arenac is a charter school, one of the few in the state chartered by an intermediate school district. It is an alternative high school, providing personalized education programs and career preparation for students who are not served by the traditional school setting. Many of Bay-Arenac's students are former dropouts from traditional public schools, students who have been in trouble with the law, or teen moms like Shannon. But they all share a common bond: a desire to graduate, gain work experience, and lead successful lives.

As Shannon says, Bay-Arenac is "not a school for bad kids, but a second chance."

And Shannon definitely needed a second chance.

Her family background and former school experience made life difficult. Shannon says her brother, Sean, took care of her after her parents divorced. When she began high school, her school life was severely affected by problems at home—including her father's alcoholism and the divorce.

Shannon skipped school every other day and was failing many of her classes. She says she didn't feel comfortable in her previous school because it was too big; she needed one-on-one attention. She also needed someone to talk to about problems at home.

In her second semester of ninth grade, Shannon's boyfriend, Earl (father of her 2-year-old son Austin), suggested she transfer to Bay-Arenac. She was so impressed with the school that she encouraged her brother to transfer as well.

One of Shannon's teachers admits Shannon was "very needy" when she arrived at Bay-Arenac.

"When Shannon came to us, she was very shy and struggling with low self-esteem. Shannon needed encouragement and an environment where she could feel successful. Although it took some time, she is now a wonderful student.

"She is also a good mom," the teacher adds.

Bay-Arenac offers day care to infants and children through 2 years, along with parenting classes to teen moms and life skills classes for all students.

Shannon admits that without day care, she wouldn't be able to attend classes. "If I wasn't going here, I wouldn't be in school," she says.

Shannon also notes that the school has provided much needed support when family problems arise.

"I love it here. When I have family problems, I can talk to a counselor," she says.

Shannon says the school, with its small enrollment—about 100 students—is like a family. The teachers and superintendent provide constant encouragement and emotional support to students, and insist on maintaining a positive, violence-free environment.

Shannon is proud of her success. She is an honor roll student, and says people from her old school hardly recognize her. Former teachers are stunned at her progress. Shannon finds this amusing and says, "They never thought I'd make it, but they were wrong."

Shannon says last summer was a turning point for her; she decided she couldn't wait to graduate and took on a new job. She is looking forward to attending college and plans to become an elementary teacher for disabled children.

Her advice for other students who are struggling is simple: "School is hard if you let it be. But, it goes by fast, too fast. If I can do it, anyone can!"