Students achieve goals at Tse' Yaato' High

(Special to the Times - Krista Allen)

Tse' Yaato' High School seniors await the changing of tassel ritual Tuesday morning during the December commencement exercise.

By Krista Allen
Special to the Times

PAGE, Ariz., Jan. 5, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Krista Allen)

TOP: Myron Black poses after the December commencement exercise at Tse' Yaato' High School.

SECOND FROM TOP: Aprilynn Douglas gives a thumb's up after the December commencement exercise at Tse' Yaato' High School.

THIRD FROM TOP: Timothy Bennett Jr. poses with his grandparents, Lorinda and Tony Bennett Sr., after the December commencement exercise at Tse' Yaato' High School.

FOURTH FROM TOP: Biaonca Nez shows her diploma after the December commencement exercise at Tse' Yaato' High School.

The central figures in their high school education were no other than their teachers.

"I'd like to say, thank you, to Mr. Penrod, Mr. Arnold, Mrs. Miller, and Mrs. Doran," Aprilynn Douglas said during her speech.

"Mrs. Doran is my favorite teacher," Douglas said. "She helped me improve my reading and writing skills. And Mr. Penrod helped me understand my math and science more.

"I'm going to miss you all," she said to her classmates. "I know that my fellow seniors feel the same way."

The commons at Tse' Yaato' High School was filled to capacity with proud family and friends as 20 seniors graduated during the Dec. 20 commencement exercise.

"This year's graduating class are unique students in a unique situation," Principal William Fleming said during an interview. "They're a unique bunch."

Otherwise known as an alternative school, the faculty teaches students who were rebuffed in formal high schools.

"We're just like any other high school," Fleming said. "We have teachers that teach all of the core classes.

"They have the brains, they're smart, but they need somebody to believe in them," he added.

And that's what happened - the faculty became each student's support system.

"I'm a single parent to a four-year-old boy," Douglas said during her closing remarks. "Going to school full time requires perseverance, but I did it."

Douglas said she was just like any other teenager who made some poor decisions in her life. Despite that, she's set her priorities straight and to stay true to her dreams by learning to consider the consequences of poor decision-making.

She compared herself to the school pet, Mr. Toodles, a turtle.

"My favorite animal is a turtle," Douglas said. "The reason is that in order for a turtle to move, it has to stick its neck up."

Fleming says he's proud of the teachers at Tse' Yaato' who helped each graduating student to achieve their goals. He explained that the teachers have the ability to connect with each student in a way that causes a trusting relationship.

"They blossom right before our eyes," Fleming said.

Nevertheless, the students at Tse' Yaato' are from all walks of life.

Rebecca Miller, a teacher, read a Navajo poem about traveling on a "rainbow trail" of overcoming problems. She says that a lot of the students have endured difficulties yet they've walked the rainbow trail and "made it."

"I made it! I made it!" Biaonca Nez said over the phone while talking to her boyfriend who's in technical school in Phoenix. "I made it!"

Now that her high school years are over, Lucretia John says she has the rest of her life ahead of her, starting a new chapter in her life.

"I believe that these 20 people are uniquely qualified to start a life in the world," Dwayne Cassidy, a teacher, said. "Light this world on fire."

"They've got plans," Fleming said. "It's really awesome to see them achieve their goals that they've set for themselves. I'm really proud of them."

About 80 percent of the student population at Tse' Yaato' is American Indian. Fleming says that's what makes the school so impressive.

"It's neat - the atmosphere," he said.

The graduating class included Tommy Benally, Timothy Bennett Jr., Myron Black, Sheena Dodson, Aprilynn Douglas, Kahmeah Fowler, Leraydo Gishie, Rider Hudson, Austin Joe, Lucretia John, Devaniel Maize, Shadow Mann, Ashton Nez, Biaonca Nez, Chayton Nez, Charmayne Warner, and Anthony Witkiewicz.