A chance at a clean slate was the first step in senior McKenzie Mates’ transformation from a “problem student.” The second step was the birth of her son, who kept her motivated to graduate at the end of this school year.
Mates is one of 12 middle and high school students from Howard County recognized at the 23rd annual Mayor’s Council on Substance Abuse Prevention Turnaround Breakfast on Thursday. Students who have made dramatic turnarounds in the past year were congratulated and given the chance to share their stories with educators, family, friends and community members at the breakfast.
Mates choked back tears as she accepted her award and thanked Northwestern High School Principal Kristen Bilkey for giving her a fresh start despite her history of expulsions, suspensions and bad grades.
“Without Bilkey, I wouldn’t be right here. And my son — if I wouldn’t have gotten pregnant, I wouldn’t be right here,” said Mates, who moved up 60 places in class rank since her freshman year. “I got pregnant and after that, I changed everything. … I was in and out of trouble all my life, and once Bilkey came, everything changed.”
The other 2013-14 Turnaround Achievement Award recipients include: Angelo Hardimon, Bon Air Middle School; Bra’don Cobb, Central Middle School; Christian Powers-Ewing, Eastern Middle School; Erica Northern, Eastern High School; Quinton Young, Kokomo High School; Destiny Williamson, Maple Crest Middle School; Damian Jaimz, McKinley High School; Joshua Brown, Taylor Middle School; Devon Sharp, Taylor High School; Mike Brown, Western Middle School; and Kendal McDonald, Western High School.
Whether the students had an unstable family life, difficult upbringing, lack of work ethic or a desire to fit in with the “cool” group at school, they all struggled academically and socially at some point in their school careers.
The good news is they each reached a point that made them want to change and pick a more positive path.