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The Journal Gazette

  • Lamb

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 4:15 am

A FUTURE for students with a PAST

Shelby Lamm

The conventional graduation ceremonies occurring across Indiana offer an opportunity to recognize an unconventional one. A Columbia City high school is graduating five seniors from a student body of 38 this year – students nobody else could manage, one at a time, without pomp or ceremony, at about half the cost of a public school.

TROY Center, an independent school founded in 1997, boasts a student body on whom the education system has given up – "bad actors" in faculty parlance, individuals identified by authorities as headed down the wrong path. Its students have been expelled or suspended from other schools or have faced incarceration for juvenile offenses. They were accustomed to slipping through the cracks.

Its approach, therefore, is different from other educational institutions. Students earn accredited four-year high school diplomas.

Taught by teachers who know them as individuals, students get quality academic training at their own pace while receiving support in the way of counseling, life-skill development, parental involvement, transportation and nutrition programs.

The school has served more than 800 youth in Indiana since its founding. Graduates have attended college, entered the nursing profession, worked in church ministries, enlisted in the military, operated their own businesses and raised families.

Some of these may look back at the expulsion that brought them to TROY as a stroke of good luck.

The secret? Again, partly it is a focus on the student, without the myriad distractions that seem to have confused the public schools with their funding system that counts heads rather than hearts. The TROY faculty measures its success solely on the student’s progress in learning the skills to become a successful, working adult.

Mostly, though, it is that the students have chosen to be there. They have taken responsibility for their own future. Few have a normal home life, and some do not have real homes.

Nonetheless, students stay at TROY for four years and get their diploma. They are young men and women who show the kind of drive, personal initiative and achievement that you would expect from students at a higher-caliber institution.

An astute employer might view theirs as a degree from a school of particularly hard knocks, the kind of graduate who turns into a self-motivated employee unlikely to take small achievements and opportunities for granted.

"Over the years we realized that we knew of kids long before they appeared in front of a judge and were ordered into the program," explained Nicole Trier, director. "We decided there was no reason to wait until a child was headed to a courtroom. We can identify children who are on that path – often simply because the public school system is not a fit – and break cycles of poverty, abuse, addiction and struggle before they are able to repeat themselves."

The center, with an annual operating budget of $275,000, will seek this summer to raise $35,000 in scholarships to meet increased enrollment anticipated as word of the school’s success spreads.

If the fund drive is successful, the school will send an additional seven qualified graduates into the Indiana job pool next year, rather than leaving that same number dependent on welfare or in various tax-funded social and correctional programs.

And that doesn’t cost, as they say, it pays.