By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

The 20 middle and high school students at Tuesday’s Turnaround Achievement Awards got there a lot of different ways.

Some had abused drugs, even going back to 6th grade. Others were involved in gangs, got pregnant way too young, or had problems at home. And still others just plain didn’t like school – and didn’t mind letting their teachers know it.

Don Lebold gives congratulations to Sheila Limas-De La Cruz, a Blanchet Catholic School eighth grader who took home a Turnaround Achievement Award. It’s sponsored by Town and Country Lanes, which Don owns with wife Ann.

The Turnaround Achievement Awards recognize those students who realized they wanted more from life, and put in the work to bring up their grades, improve their conduct and put themselves on a better path in life. The awards are sponsored by Town and Country Lanes and recognizes students from throughout Salem-Keizer.

It’s tempting to call Tuesday’s awards a happy ending for these children. But it’s more like a happy beginning.

“Life is all about choices,” said Keizer Police Chief Marc Adams, the luncheon’s keynote speaker. “Choices don’t stop coming. … Listen to that voice that tells you right and wrong.”

One who did was Chandra Timm, a 17-year-old McNary student who found herself beset with drug problems when she was just starting high school. She went from Ds and Fs on her report card to almost all-As. The one B was in Advanced Placement U.S. History.

“Now I realize how easy high school is if you just show up!” Timm said.

She’s headed to Chemeketa Community College and is considering the Peace Corps.

Debi Meier, a McNary counselor, said Timm was “the epitome of a turnaround.

“She’s gone from being a pretty mediocre student to top-notch,” she said. “Most kids who go off to an alternative program don’t do nearly as well as she has.”

Caleb Feiring, a Whiteaker Middle student, had a brush with the law not that long ago, and said he was “really messing up – headed down a path I didn’t want to go down.”
A juvenile court judge told Feiring

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“I could be there for a long time. I didn’t want to be in and out of jail.”

He said his teachers were “really helpful and supported me because they knew I was trying to make a change.”

Kyle Mabry, a Whiteaker teacher who nominated Feiring, said he has “worked very, very hard to get himself turned around and do the things he needs to do … to do the right thing.”

Jacque Walker, a health teacher, said such a drastic turnaround in just a year doesn’t happen all that often.

“You see maybe one a year, if you’re lucky,” Walker said, adding Feiring has improved his social skills and character along with his grades.

Victor Duarte of Claggett Creek Middle School was nominated by his principal, Pete Danner.

Duarte said he was getting into trouble with gangs and drugs, and Danner said his turnaround began when he realized someone was watching him.

“He recognized he had younger sisters in his family that were going to be looking up to him,” said Danner, who described Duarte as “an extremely polite, intelligent young man.”

“I started listening to people who gave me advice,” Duarte said. “They told me to start hanging out with different people.”

And Sheila Limas-De La Cruz admitted she just didn’t like the rules and structure that came along with school.

“A lot of talking in class, not really paying attention,” she said. “I looked at myself and said, ‘If I want to be the person I want to be, this isn’t a good start.’”

But Bob Weber, principal of Blanchet Catholic School, said she was the first middle school student at Blanchet to be nominated for the award

“She has improved … and become a leader,” Weber said of Limas-De La Cruz. “She is here today because of the support of her friends and family, but mostly because of her own hard work.”