Rajie left the courtroom, went back to her lawyer’s office, and broke down in hysterical tears. She was almost screaming between gasping breaths, saying she doesn’t go to a “real school” because she has been labeled with behavior problems and therefore attends Asheville High’s Alternative program. She sobs a familiar teen sentiment, “No one understands what I’m going through”. Her mom speaks up with a firm voice while carefully trying to calm Rajie down and says, “If it wasn’t for the work that Ms. Jones and y’all have done with her, she would have dropped out already.”
I am “Ms. Jones” and this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this intense emotion and frustration in a student who is largely misunderstood. Rajie is in the courts for fighting, which is more common than it should be for kids living in poverty attending urban high schools. Rajie gathered herself in response to her mom’s encouraging words and went on to explain that her tutor and the StopClock program were “saving her.” When she felt the school gave up on her, she knew that OpenDoors and StopClock didn’t.
To ensure that promising students from our most impoverished neighborhoods don’t miss their chance at earning a high school diploma, OpenDoors created a credit-earning intervention program called StopClock. Experienced and NC licensed teachers meet with students who are suspended or behind on their credits. Meeting in libraries, their neighborhoods, and in their homes, student and teacher work together to earn the specific credits needed to catch up and graduate. Sometimes they have taken the class before and failed, and other times it’s all new material. OpenDoors provides transportation and food when needed and tutors, like me, have Orton-Gillingham and behavioral management training so that we can meet all OpenDoors students where they are, not where they aren’t, which is how many feel when they’re struggling with behavior and learning differences in the larger classroom.
For many, it’s a race against the clock towards graduation, and the outcome is life-altering. According to The Huffington Post, “over 80 percent of the incarcerated population is high school dropouts– making this an issue that truly impacts every member of the community.” Dropping out usually means a lifetime of depending on subsidies and aid from governmental programs, and falling into the cycle of poverty like their parents before them. StopClock allows for an amazing alternate result; young people in graduation robes and families beaming with pride walking in Kimmel Arena for the graduation ceremony held each June. They are walking through a wide open door that was previously only cracked open, or sometimes even slammed in their faces. There are young women who didn’t have to drop out of high school because of an unplanned pregnancy, teens who were derailed by unaddressed trauma, behavior, and resulting suspensions, who are back on track. They are children who have spent time in jail and desperate to change their futures, but are too far behind to know what to do alone. They are beautiful faces from local families who love them. They all want success. Everyone does. They want to enter adulthood with the education and life skills that will allow them to contribute and stand on their own two feet. They only need our support, direction, and someone to believe in them at this critical juncture in their lives… someone who can pause time for a moment and give them an opportunity to correct their mistakes, and catch up. StopClock is just that.
Lauren Jones is an award-winning educator who volunteers as a tutor in the innovative OpenDoors of Asheville “StopClock” program.