In the often temporary world of alternative high schools, Contract Based Education senior Samantha Kelly is something of an anomaly – she attended CBE for her entire four years of high school.
Two weeks after she started attending West Valley High School her freshman year, she became sick with a stomach problem and missed a lot of school. Her counselor suggested CBE, which would allow her to have a more flexible schedule.
In a way her arrival at CBE was her second fresh start. Kelly, 17, had lived in California and was home-schooled during most of her sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade years because of illnesses. She has been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and bipolar depression.
“When I was younger I went through a period when I was really depressed,” she said.
She tried to go back to school, but couldn’t face the other students.
“It was really awkward,” she said. “Everyone looked at me differently.”
She chose to leave her divorced parents in California and come live with her grandmother in Spokane Valley. “When I moved here it was to start over and have a fresh start, but then I got sick again.”
Kelly doesn’t tell everyone she meets about being diagnosed as bipolar six years ago, but she isn’t afraid to talk about it if she thinks it will help someone. “I try not to let people know that,” she said. “I don’t want to change their judgment of me.”
The mental illness is well controlled by medication, which she is diligent about taking. “If I forget to take it, I’m hyper,” she said. “I can’t concentrate because I have ADD, too.”
Now Kelly is glad she landed at CBE. She feels acknowledged and appreciated and thinks she would have gotten lost in the crowd at a large high school. “If I was at a regular high school I don’t think I would have blossomed as much,” she said.
And blossom she has. She serves on the Chase Youth Commission’s teen advisory council and is also on the mental health advisory board of the regional support network. “I wanted to give the youth voice,” she said.
She helped plan last year’s drop-out prevention seminar. She volunteers at Habitat for Humanity, Valley Hospital and Medical Center and the Spokane Valley Partners Food Bank. She also helped launch the Associated Student Body group at her school and serves as treasurer.
Her physical illnesses caused her to miss a lot of school, but she caught up every time. “If you don’t keep going then you’re just getting more behind,” she said.
All the hard work has paid off. She holds a 3.7 grade-point average. She plans to get her basic classes out of the way at Spokane Community College and then transfer to a four-year college. Her hospital stays have inspired her to become a registered nurse specializing in pediatric endocrinology. “I think I have more of an understanding of what kids my age go through,” she said.
She hopes her health will stay under control, though she now also suffers from migraines. “It’s not like I let it stop me,” she said. “I keep going.”