Haywood Community Learning Center is available to students who have dropped out or are struggling with the all-encompassing nature of full-time public high school. For Schmidt, moving to Waynesville and starting at Tuscola High School in her junior year was a struggle. “In the beginning I got bullied a lot and most public schools won’t do anything about it. They said that they had to have physical proof before they could do anything. So I spent a lot of time dreading going to school, because I was scared to go to school, because kids were just mean,” she said.
HCLC provides all online classes and staff at the Learning Center help students with their online material. “Once I came to HCLC, they gave me everything I needed,” Schmidt said. “A whole support system. They didn’t tolerate bullying at all. They make their schedules flexible so I could work. I got pregnant and I had a kid so I needed to be able to have enough hours to provide for us, because my mom is disabled.”
The online, flexible nature of the school means that quarantine didn’t bring about huge changes to their system like it did at many other high schools. Brookely Nicholson, Administrator at HCLC and WIOA program director said, “we are more set up than anybody for dealing with this pandemic, because all of our learning is online, and we’re a very flexible program anyway. We’re not like a structured school.”
While most students, teachers and schools were adjusting to distance/online learning, HCLC was already there. Now, they are looking forward to making graduation as special as it can be for their students that have worked so hard to get there. With 41 graduating seniors, the staff is planning a drive-thru graduation complete with a slideshow, music, balloons, posters, streamers, bubble machines, caps, tassels and Class of 2020 T-shirts. Current and former staff will line the building with signs, cowbells, megaphones, horns and cheering. At the end of the drive-thru there will be a professional photographer set up with a backdrop to take each graduate's photo holding their diploma. “We’re really trying to go all out, we’re really trying to make them aware that we’re thinking of each of them, that we’re really proud of each of them and make it a moment to remember,” Nicholson said.
She does not see this pandemic having a negative impact on her students. She said they have faced more obstacles than most students up to this point in life, which has molded their work ethic, drive and character. Where other seniors might worry about missing prom, graduation night and taking photos with friends, these seniors knew they wouldn’t have some of those things going in. HCLC does not have prom, yearbook or sports. “Those three things our kids kind of knew, that we don’t have those here, so that was not something they were robbed of,” she said. “For our students, walking across the stage is just a formality. For them, holding that diploma in their hands and showing their families who, maybe none of them have graduated, that’s the moment they really want and need. They are all set up, ready to move on to bigger and better things anyway.”
That’s not to say quarantine has not sometimes been a struggle for HCLC seniors. Like most people cooped up at home, Schmidt says she misses being able to get out of the house, hang out with friends and do everyday things. And like a lot of people around the world, there are financial issues as well. “It’s been a struggle because we’ve been broke. And we haven’t had jobs, it’s been hard trying to pay the bills and pay for baby stuff and pay for our needs, and just get by,” Schmidt said.
But the change of pace has been refreshing in some ways. “I like that everything has kind of slowed down. It’s made everybody have to take a step back from everything and realize that things are going to have to be different,” said Schmidt.“I’ve been able to reflect, focus on me, get my house together, clean, get things the way that I wanted to.”
Schmdit already has plans for her next steps, and they look bright. “I’m hoping to go to Southwestern Community and get a degree in technology. I want to be a computer engineer and hopefully I’ll be able to get a good job once I get that degree,” she said.