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He helped family and earned diploma

Aaron Malm, shown standing in the auto shop at the Skills Center, is finishing his diploma at the nearby On-Track Academy and plans to go into the Army. (Jesse Tinsley)
Aaron Malm, shown standing in the auto shop at the Skills Center, is finishing his diploma at the nearby On-Track Academy and plans to go into the Army. (Jesse Tinsley)

There’s a history of military service in the family of Aaron Malm, and the 19-year-old senior at Spokane’s On-Track Academy is already on track to continue the tradition. He’s enlisted in the Army and is set to begin basic training at the end of August.

But first, he will earn his high school diploma.

For a while it didn’t look like the diploma was going to happen, but Malm made the decision that rather than be a dropout, rather than settle for a GED, he’d find a way to go for a full diploma.

What put a diploma in jeopardy wasn’t bad grades, bad habits, legal issues or bad life choices. He was a young man who acted on the belief that family comes first, even if that meant no diploma for him.

At the beginning of his junior year at Ferris High School, Malm learned that his uncle, Brenden Hill of Kooskia, Idaho, had become critically ill with a liver disorder and needed long-term treatment in Spokane. Because of the expense and the fact that the seven Hill children were home-schooled, someone was going to have to take care of them while their parents came to Spokane.

Malm and his grandmother Debbie Crane were the ones to go. “We talked about it in our family, and I told my parents I thought it was a no-brainer,” said the quiet and reserved Malm. “My uncle was in a spot where they needed help. They’re family.”

The original plan was that Malm would study while he was in Idaho and prepare to get his GED, but things didn’t work out that way. There was an awful lot to do caring for seven children and a home in the country. While his cousins did their school work in the mornings, Malm took care of the chickens and goats and worked around the property. He shared other household tasks with his grandmother, including child care and cooking.

“I love to cook,” he said, adding that he’s been told he makes great burgers and credits a secret formula. He’s also no slouch at making a meal from whatever happens to be available in the refrigerator. One night he turned chicken, spaghetti sauce, green beans and cheese into an oven dish that “turned out pretty all right.”

When his uncle recovered and Malm returned to Spokane, he tried returning to regular high school, but he was missing quite a few academic credits. A good friend attends the On-Track Academy, a credit completion program of Spokane Public Schools, and Malm realized that would be a perfect fit for him as well – and a place where he could earn his diploma, not just a GED.

He studies automotive technology (something he loves) at the Skills Center in the mornings and does his academic work in the afternoons. “Aaron is so kind and so bright and he is wonderful to have as a student,” said his teacher, Erin Bangle. “I am so proud of him.”

“That time I took away in Idaho taught me some important things about myself,” Malm said. “I realized that being there for my family was more important than a piece of paper, the diploma. If I had to walk away from high school and just earn a GED, that would have been OK. If you keep an eye on what’s important in life, the rest will fall into place.”

This summer, Aaron Malm enters the Army as a wheeled-vehicle mechanic, having the opportunity to do two things he loves – serve his country and work on cars and trucks.

“I’ve talked about the military since I was little,” he said, “and now I’ll get four years of training doing something I really want to do, plus I can get college paid for.”

After the Army, he thinks he might like to study to become a wildlife biologist or game warden. Being out in the woods – like in Idaho – is very appealing to him.