By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
A few short years ago, if someone had asked Kelsee Blain, Joshua Guerrero and Jedidiah Hunter what they hoped to do once they finished school, all three probably expected they wouldn’t finish school.
Today, however, each has a loftier goal. Blain is looking into a career in medicine. Guerrero wants to be a video game designer, or a doctor. Hunter wants to be a lawyer specializing in cases from the deaf community.
The Keizer students who were recently honored with the turnaround award had many supporters as they struggled to make a positive change in their lives and school work, but, perhaps more importantly, they discovered that change was within their grasp all along.
“People helped me, but it came down to helping myself,” said Kelsee Blain, the Tunaround Award recipient at McNary High School. “I changed my attitude – one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do – and it taught me a lot of things about perseverance and self-confidence.”
The Turnaround Achievement Award recognizes area high school and middle school students who made remarkable turnarounds in their lives and academic work. The annual award is sponsored by Don and Ann Lebold, owners of Town & Country Lanes in Keizer.
Blain’s early years at McNary High School were a gauntlet of trials and tribulation, said Debi Meier, McNary counselor.
“It’s been a pleasure to see her transformation from the surly, obstinate, whiny, cringe-when-I-hear-her-voice-in-the-lobby student to the young woman she’s become,” said Meier. “Now, she comes in with a smile on her face.”
Before setting herself on a better path in the past two years, Blain had a failing GPA, but reversed course and has been on a streak of straight-As.
“The road I was on wasn’t leading anywhere. I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Blain said. “Basically, I saw what other people were doing in classes and I started working toward being more responsible.”
Guerrero went from being an average student in sixth grade to a failing student in seventh grade at Claggett Middle School.
“I was just hanging out with the wrong people and I didn’t like any of my teachers,” Guerrero said. “I ran into trouble with law enforcement and I decided I didn’t want that to happen anymore.”
What he didn’t expect was how hard he would have to work to prove to school officials he’d made a change.
“When I came to eighth grade, they thought I was going to be a bad kid and I had to prove to them that I wasn’t that way anymore,” Guerrero said.
Claggett principal Colleen Johnson got to know Guerrero well from the many referrals he racked up, but she was surprised a year later to learn that the person who replaced her as vice principal knew little of him.
“Now, his grades are up, his attitude is really improved and, if he continues down the path he’s on, he’ll be successful,” she said.
Hunter, a Whiteaker Middle School student, was known to his instructors as a skilled debater and wordsmith, but most of his vocabulary was discouraging.
Forced enrollment in the school emotional growth center for students needing “heavy-duty support” was a wake-up call, Hunter said.
“I just didn’t feel I had to listen to teachers, I felt like I could do whatever I wanted,” Hunter said. “I started seeing how other kids in the EGC were acting I decided that wasn’t for me.”
He started by learning to contain his emotions in situations where his instinct was to talk back to people in authority.
As an eighth grader, he’s combined passions for reading and a desire to know more about the world to decide on a career track that he hopes will lead to becoming an advocate for the deaf community.
“I was told I had good arguing skills. I want to use my ability to do something good for the world. My sister is deaf and I want to get certified in sign language to represent [the deaf population] in court,” Hunter said.