One Schenectady High School student zoned out, playing on his Nintendo DS during class. Another skipped school, staying home to watch TV. Yet another got into fights.
All of them got an unpleasant dose of reality this spring when they learned they didn’t have enough time in the classroom to qualify for graduation.
Sure, they’d passed their Regents exams. But there’s more to high school than the tests. So all three showed up for summer school — and finally got to walk across the stage at the high school.
For some students who graduated Wednesday, the walk had an element of shame. They said they didn’t want to be photographed. They didn’t want anyone to know they’d graduated after summer school.
But others were relieved to have managed to be part of the class of 2014, even if it was a few months late.
“I’m just glad I graduated with my friends. Even though I graduated on a different date than them,” said Adam Bennett, 19.
He had to spend the summer writing the essays and lab reports that he skipped while playing Nintendo during the school year.
“I feel a little remorse I didn’t get that done during the year,” he said, noting that four of his friends graduated in June.
But even that wasn’t the real impetus for Bennett’s walk across the stage.
“What really motivated me is, I have two sisters,” he said. “One’s going to be a senior.”
He desperately wanted to avoid the humiliation of ending up in the same classes as his sister.
“She’s two years younger!” he said. “And you’d have to deal with all her friends, too. And make new friends.”
So, with his sister coming up right behind, he finished his work and got out of high school.
Others said they, too, had to learn to focus.
Justin Wethington, 18, said he wound up in summer school for “bad decision-making.”
He just couldn’t walk away from a fight, he said.
People told him, “If you think about it more, you get upset more,” and “walk away and forget about it.” But he couldn’t do it until he learned he wasn’t going to graduate.
“Then it clicked,” he said. “It made me think about all the wrong choices I made.”
He had to make up class time in English and math, as well as gym. That wasn’t fun — to make up for missing gym, he had to fill out “packets and packets” about various sports.
His mother, Merdell, was on hand to cheer for him as he walked proudly across the stage. Afterward, she said she was afraid he wouldn’t make it until the school called Friday to say he would graduate.
When he finally donned his cap and gown, she was overjoyed. “Overwhelmed. Speechless,” she said.
Madison Lynch-Bietta’s fathers were just as relieved when their daughter got the call.
They had not been able to stop her from skipping class, “no matter what we did,” said Michael Chotkowski.
“In the end, it had to be her choice,” he said. “It’s like, wow! It finally happened!”
Madison said high school, and the summer school that followed, was a “life lesson.”
“I feel I’m wiser,” she said.
She kept staying home to watch TV, skipping school more and more until suddenly, in June, she learned she had skipped too many classes to graduate.
“Everyone around me was graduating, was doing it,” she said, calling it her “Whoa!” moment.
Then she despaired. She needed to make up time in every subject: English, Participation in Government, Economics, math, science and gym.
She thought she wouldn’t be able to finish it all during summer school. But officials said she could do half the classes through independent study, completing essays and other work on her own.
So she did.
“Lots of weekend work,” she said.
In the end, 21 Schenectady students graduated after summer school. That boosted the high school’s graduation rate to 60 percent for the class of 2014.