Just another high school drop out

May 25, 2008
By Staci Koberstein, Gig Harbor, WA

As her peers stuff their books into backpacks, Kailey Young shoves one of her rubber glove laden hands into a frosted bin of very berry strawberry. Though currently occupied with the tedious job of serving ice cream for minimum wage, this former Gig Harbor High School Student hopes to return to the life of a student.

The root Young’s struggle reaches into the beginnings of her life when she was and infant around only the age of two months. At that time, Young’s childhood experience quickly became atypical: Her father vanished from her life, leaving her mother to raise three children.

“When my dad left, my mom had to go live with my grandparents and rent out their place where she raised us,” said Young “It was stressful. She was an alcoholic before he left, but him leaving just made her drink more.”

Her mother’s drinking habits effected the family’s finances. Without a consistent job, her mother made only around $6,000 per year. “She kept getting laid-off and quitting. She’d get fired... A lot of times she went to work drunk,” Young recalled.

Though through Welfare the family did receive some aid, this money did not necessarily translate into food for the three daughters. Sometimes, the mother spent the money on beer and cigarettes.

“We weren’t literally starving, but most the time we only had food from the fish food bank, things that had already expired and things you couldn’t make anything to eat out of without other ingredients... We always had one type of food that would last us a whole month... Like we’d have eggs for a whole month or tuna for a whole month,” said Young.

As Young grew older, her mother became even less responsible. “It was worse than not having a parent. It was like having some rebellious teenager as a mom,” Young explained. “Me and my sisters practically raised ourselves... I missed out on my teenage years and childhood. Those years where just chaos and growing up fast.”

GHHS' Counseling Department is accustomed in handling cases where a teenager is weighed down by outside stress. Likewise, they are also aware of stress’s impact on a student’s academic performance

“A lot of times family-related issues are a large part of what students are struggling with... if they have a rough family life, they can’t focus on school as much and homework becomes less of priority, ” said Dave Burmark, the head of GHHS’s Counseling Department.

Overtime, the tension that Young’s family created completely replaced any previous scholarly ambition. When she was 15, her grandparents, who had long stopped receiving rent for their home, decided to move back into their house. Left with few options, Young decided to rent out an apartment with a friend. Still only in her sophomore year, Young began working at a part-time job in order to earn money for food and rent. As her pay increased, her GPA dropped.

To help students stay on track for graduation, the school’s counselors “keep credit checks for every student... but there are still situations that [they] are unaware of because students don’t always try to seek out help,” said Burmark.

Young admitted that she never sought attention from her counselor. “I would have told them about my situation, if I knew it could have helped me graduate.”

After a year of having to pay for all of her own expenses, Young stopped attending Gig Harbor High School and, at the age of 16, obtained the label of a high school drop-out.

“I started skipping school to make time for work, and then I couldn’t go back because I was so behind,” said Young. “I just stopped showing up.”

When a student entirely quits going to school it becomes an administrative problem rather than a counseling concern. According to Lee Smith, acting assistant principle, GHHS has legal power over students who fail to attend school. When the Washington State Legislature enacted the Becca Bill in 1995, Gig Harbor High School gained the authority to petition the courts and have done such concerning students with around 10 unexcused absences.

“Basically the courts will determine the next step. They could possible take the student to Remann Hall or force them to pay per days of non attendance,” reported Smith.

Yet, the bill contains a few imperfections; in it are certain loopholes that allow underage students the possibility of dropping-out prematurely. For instance, a minor is able to withdraw from GHHS with the intent of attending an outside program, such as fresh start. With GHHS being unable to monitor the activity of those who leave the school, the student could presumably fail to pursue said program.

Having slipped past the Becca Bill, Young currently lives in a cramped, two-bedroom apartment.
Now 18-years-old, she also dwells in a world of realization. “I knew school was important before I dropped-out, but I just didn’t care because of all the stress. Now I do care. Even though I still have stress going on, I’m looking further into the future.”

Despite the stigma associated with the term dropout, someone lacking a high school diploma is not forever doomed to live an unsuccessful life. Realizing this, Young plans to register for classes at TCC in preparation of earning her GED, hoping to later receive a bachelors degree in English.

As Burmark put simply, “there’s always options. Whether these options become solutions depends on the players in the game.”

*Source's name has been changed.

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