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As a group of Buckner Alternative High School students gather in the Oldham County Schools Arts Center, principal Jonathan Wosoba stands at the podium and balances authority with friendliness as he colorfully commands the congregation.
“OK, now another guy is going to come up here and shake your hand, but remember he’s a professional so he’s shaking with his right hand,” Wosoba says, demonstrating the act with Buckner teacher Bonnie Hatton. “And another guy is going to be up here saying ‘blah, blah, blah.’”
Wosoba’s demeanor is casual yet frantic – conjuring a few giggles from the 32 students as they watch school leaders practice a procedure they’ll perform in front of hundreds.
It’s graduation time – the pinnacle at which many aspiring teenagers will leave their families and venture off into the world.
But this isn’t a stereotypical graduation, nor is this a stereotypical high school. Buckner is an alternative school for students who have struggled with a traditional school setting. Whether it be teen pregnancy, consistent violence in school, tardiness or students living with foster families, Buckner serves those who need it most.
School of no excuses
Created in 1995 by former principal and current assistant superintendent with Oldham County Schools, Dan Orman, the school was intended to serve the area as a place where students underachieving or misbehaving in traditional schools could come and complete courses in order to potentially graduate.
Wosoba, who is nearing his fifth year as principal at Buckner, said the school – a facility that serves about 150 students per year with an 8-to-1 student to teacher ratio – can focus more on the students needs as compared to a larger high school.
“The misnomers with an alternative school is that students come here because they’re bad kids, but we started the school based on how all kids can learn,” Wosoba said. “And the kids like the extra support a lot.”
The school features four concentrated programs – credit recovery, intensive, transition and alternative to suspension. Several Buckner graduates participated in the credit recovery program, which features online courses for students to quickly catch up or finish school.
With many students struggling to juggle school, work and home, drop out rates have increased in Kentucky – including Oldham County. According to the Kentucky Department of Education, the drop out rate in Oldham County in 2008 rose to 0.8 percent. The statewide drop out rate is 3.3 percent.
Hatton, a Buckner teacher since 1997, said the school serves as a solution for students who can’t perform as well in traditional schools.
“There are kids who just don’t fit the mold,” Hatton said as a line of students wait to hug her Friday. “If you don’t have an outlet like Buckner Alternative, then you’re going to lose them and if you lose them then you’ve lost them forever.”
Never thought they would make it
As the graduation ceremony comes to a close, tears stream down Luis Quijada’s face – he never thought he’d hear family members cheer when his name was called to receive his diploma.
Quijada, a native of Mexico, said he considered dropping out last fall, but stayed after receiving encouragement from his teachers. After transferring from Oldham County High School and completing his final year at Buckner, Quijada received an award for academic achievement – something he’ll take with him when he attends Jefferson Community College in the fall.
“I thought it was way too much for me but they inspired me to stay in school and finish it,” he said. “I feel really proud of myself.”
Andrew Davis, another award winner, never expected he’d earn a high school diploma. Battling addictions with alcohol and drugs, Davis said the challenges were severe and the effort to overcome and remain sober for 16 months is a tribute to the staff at Buckner.
“(Buckner staff) care more and they pushed me to the limit so that I could do the best that I could and they helped me with all of my issues,” Davis said. “I’ve overcome a lot of stuff this past year, but I just had to face life and get over my issues and start being a productive member of society.”
Wosoba became emotional when talking about Davis at the ceremony, reflecting on the struggles the teenager had to overcome in order to graduate.
“(Davis) came back to us from the edge,” Wosoba said. “We could be without him just as easy as we are with him tonight.”
An educator’s dream
As gown-clad Buckner students flock outside to celebrate with family members and friends, Wosoba is content with the graduation of one of the school’s largest classes.
“This is the icing on the cake,” Wosoba said, grinning. “It’s what I’m in the business for. It’s the ultimate reason to do what we do.”
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