Zhe ‘Don Beard missed 300 homework assignments in one year.
Julie Justice hid in the school hallways with her friends when she was supposed to be in class.
Both have chosen to do better in school and were among 12 students honored at the 21st annual Howard County Turnaround Breakfast.
“I was once a slacker, but I wanted to feel good about myself,” Beard told those gathered at the breakfast.
Beard was the Western Middle School award recipient.
Principal Julie Pownall said she can’t count how many times she sat with Beard in her office or called his father to discuss academic issues.
Then one day, Beard told her, “I promise you I’m going to prove you wrong. I’m going to show you what I can do.”
The talented three-sport athlete gave up basketball, baseball and football for a whole year to focus on his studies. He turned in his missing assignments and brought his grades up, Pownall said.
“He’s back on the field and doing great things,” Pownall said. “He’s such an amazing student. I could only be blessed with 600 of him at school.”
Teachers and students paraded on stage Thursday to share similar success stories.
Central Middle School student Alanis Kitts transformed herself into a girl who is mature, has a positive attitude and has made great academic strides, teacher Carol Deditch said.
Alanis held on to a poem that Deditch gives all her female students.
Deditch quoted a few lines Thursday.
“After a while, you begin to accept your defeats with your head held high ... with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,” she said. “You learn, and you learn, and you learn.”
Taylor High School senior Ariel Copeland fought back tears as she accepted her Turnaround award.
“I didn’t expect to cry,” she said.
Taylor High School guidance counselor Heather Baltz said Copeland struggled in school for years.
She was only in school for the social experience and hung out with a tough crowd, Baltz said. Her school work was sporadic, and she had a bad attitude, Baltz said.
“Rock bottom was the foundation on which I rebuilt my life, and I’m never looking back,” Copeland said.
Copeland is now working to get her clinical nursing assistant’s license and mentors freshmen who are struggling like she did.
“To quote Ariel, ‘It’s never too late to change, and when you do, it’s the best feeling in the world,’” Baltz said.
Justice used to be a bad student, teacher Mary Hinkle said. The Kokomo High School student was failing math and doing poorly in her other classes. She didn’t even go to class. Instead, she hung out in the halls with her friends.
Then she stumbled into Hinkle’s classroom and decided she wanted better for herself, Hinkle said.
“Now, she is on her way to making the honor roll,” Hinkle said. “She’s an unusual student. She’s an inspiration.”
Michael Bratton received a Turnaround award in 2003. He returned Thursday to deliver a message to this year’s recipients.
He told them that this is not the end of the line. He encouraged the students to keep moving forward like he did. He told them to have dreams and ambition
“Keep your head held high,” he said. “Stop looking at your feet and start looking at where your feet are taking you.”
McKinley High School teacher Matthew Temme doted on student Austin Crull and the progress he’s made.
“He’s a classic example of why teachers should never give up,” Temme said. “This is why we do what we do.”
• Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, may be reached at 765-454-8585 or firstname.lastname@example.org.