New School, New Me: A Teenager Embraces A New Environment
Chiyenne McElrath, a junior at the Dayton Early College Academy, also known as DECA, talks about how she went from being a troubled youth to finding self-awareness at her new high school.
From my third through fifth grade years, I went to a charter all-girls school. During these few years, I was very troubled and depressed. I was constantly being bullied and getting in trouble.
I was suspended for fighting on the school bus, making death threats to another student and getting into a yelling match with the principal. I can't remember all the reasons why. After my fifth grade year, I was told not to come back to the school and [the principal] never wanted to see my face again. My temper has gotten me into a lot of trouble in the past.
I believe the staff at my old school was toxic. The teachers there just for the paycheck. I can't tell you how many times a teacher told me, "At the end of the day, I'm still going to get paid. Whether you work or not, I'm still going to get my check."
Transitioning from the all-girls school into DECA was pretty difficult. I would often pick fights with the boys because I was so used to being picked on, I took their harmless teasing to heart. I had a bit of trouble finding female friends at first. The girls at DECA showed me that not all people want to be mean to you. My first ever adviser, Miss Ferguson, taught me the importance of school and how I shouldn't let my anger get the best of me. Then things started to look up
The DECA atmosphere is a whole different experience from my other school. Everyone has a space to be uniquely themselves.
There have been countless times when I would break down in class from stress and my language arts teacher, Mr. Wade, would talk to me one on one. My history teacher, Miss Jones, will come from the other side of the wall to comfort me. DECA staff also tell you they love you, which means a lot coming from someone you aren't related to. Most kids don't have the loving feeling in their home, but they definitely feel it when they come to DECA.
The family culture at DECA played a huge part in my change as well. During advisory, we have circles. Circles are when everyone sits in the middle of the room and discusses a topic or has an in-depth conversation. During circles, we open up to each other and become closer as a group.
If you're an educator looking to help students succeed, here are a few things you can do:
Tell them how important they are to you. There is nothing like being told what your worth is. Check on them. There is nothing like a mentally stable student. Push them. Make sure they have a reason to strive and to want to be better for not only for you, but themselves.
I never had that at the all-girls school. No one really had time for an individual student, let alone me being a troubled child. Since I have been a student in both atmospheres, I can tell you that the more hands on and personal approach works better for students. At DECA, we work hard because we want to and people around us to inspire us so much. They give us a good reason to strive to make them proud.
Of course, school can be very stressful and exhausting, but with the support of DECA staff members and my peers, I know for a fact that there is nothing that could keep me from focusing on the day I get to walk across the stage in my red cap and gown.
Chiyenne McElrath is a student at the Dayton Early College Academy. To learn more about DECA, visit the school's website: http://daytonearlycollege.org Special thanks to Anne Rasmussen, Director of Community Involvement at DECA. Dayton Youth Radio is supported by the Virginia W. Kettering Foundation, the Vectren Foundation, and the Ohio Arts Council.
This story was created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.