BY Lindsey Ziliak
Tribune staff writer
Kokomo High School senior Damon Prater had a hard time getting out of bed in the mornings, so he’d just stay in bed long after the school day began.
He missed 10 of the first 12 days of school this year.
Then the principal called him into the office.
“I told him, ‘I don’t care what happened, let’s try something new,’” Principal Rick Hagenow said.
Prater was enrolled in the high school’s new Twilight School.
Now he has class from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and he spends an hour or two doing school work from home every night.
Hagenow said Prater hasn’t missed a day of school there, yet. And even better, the high school senior is on track to graduate this year.
It could have been much different if Prater didn’t have the Twilight School to help him.
“By this point in time, he would have been in trouble,” Hagenow said.
Prater agreed. He said there was no way he was going to graduate on time before.
“Not even close,” he said.
Twilight School is giving hundreds of Howard County residents a second chance to earn a high school diploma.
Hagenow said 204 people of all ages are enrolled in the school, and another 50 are on a waiting list to get in. The principal said he expected only about 50 people to be interested in the school this year.
But Hagenow kept getting calls from parents of high school students and even adult dropouts who thought they’d never get their high school diploma.
“I had no less than three people who have cried and said, ‘You mean I could get to walk across stage at the Kokomo High School graduation?’” Hagenow said.
For every student, Twilight School looks a little different.
Right now, most of the lessons are online.
Some students are at school every day to complete them while other students do most of the work from their computer at home.
Teachers said about 75 or 80 students come in through the week. The others work on their own.
“You have that freedom with Twilight School,” said Dave Barnes, director of communications for Kokomo-Center Schools.
Hagenow said one student recently gave birth to twins. One of the babies had to remain at Riley Hospital, so the mother traveled back and forth between Kokomo and Indianapolis.
The only way she was able to continue her studies was through the online lessons.
April Cast works from home sometimes, but she comes into Kokomo High School almost every day that Twilight School is open to get extra help. She stays from 3 to 7 p.m.
That schedule helps her make more time for her one-year-old son.
She is able to watch her son during the day, and her dad and grandma can watch him at night while she goes to school.
Cast said she has created a schedule that allows her to be back home in time to tuck her baby into bed each night.
At one time, she wasn’t sure she would ever make it back to school, though.
She dropped out when she found out she was pregnant. For a while, she was getting into a lot of trouble and had very little support, she said.
She always wanted to go back because she had big plans for herself. She wants to get accepted into an art institute, so she can become a successful interior designer.
With Twilight School, that dream seems achievable again, she said.
“I want to make a life for me and my son,” she said. “And my dad and grandma want to be there to see me graduate like I was supposed to.”
Those two things are her motivation, she said.
She’s focused on getting her Core 40 diploma, and she’s making progress.
She’s already earned five credits since starting classes about seven weeks ago. She’s finished an English class, government class, U.S. history class and was taking her final test in an African studies class Wednesday.
“When I got my first credit, I was so excited,” Cast said. “I thought, ‘I can do this.’”
Hagenow said students have earned a combined 140 credit hours so far.
Prater needs just seven credits to graduate. His goal is to finish by mid-term.
He has plans to take the SAT in December, but he knows he’ll need extra help before then.
Barnes said he will be there to support Prater with practice tests and extra tutoring when the time comes.
Prater’s dream is to go to college to play baseball and study physical therapy. Hagenow smiled as Prater laid out those plans.
“These are people almost everyone had given up on,” he said. “I look at their faces and say, ‘They’re going to graduate.’”