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Washington Voices

Finding Harmony High was start of good things

Joel Barrett-Schneider’s story may have had a less than happy ending if he hadn’t enrolled in Harmony High School, part of East Valley’s Washington Academy of Arts and Technology. “Alternative schools get a bad rap,” he said. “People think that the ‘bad kids’ go there. That’s not true.”

Barrett-Schneider has never been a bad kid. Failing grades and dozens of missing assignments throughout elementary and middle school might cause a person to assume otherwise, but what it really came down to was his style of learning. “I felt lost and overwhelmed,” he admitted, “I was picked on because of it. Kids called me stupid.”

Feeling frustrated and defeated, he acted out enough that, in the first or second grade, a teacher suggested he might have attention deficit disorder. He took medication for the disorder for more than five years. “I eventually took him to a doctor who said he didn’t need it,” his mother, Darla Barrett, said. “I weaned him off of it. I just told him that he outgrew it.”

By the time Barrett-Schneider was in the sixth grade, he was doing so poorly that he was put into a special class. Once there, he did so well that they returned him to regular classes. He went back and forth a couple of more times. Almost lost in the system, Barrett-Schneider heard about Harmony. “My mom almost said ‘no’ because of the ‘bad kids’ rap, but she let me try it out,” he said. “This school turned things around for me.”

That was four years ago. He has since been doing well and he is prepared to graduate with, besides good grades in all the basics, a better understanding of his own style of learning and some good life skills. “I’m not afraid to ask questions anymore,” he said.

Raised by his mother and two sisters, Barrett-Schneider considers his grandfather more like a father. “Sure I’ve missed having a dad around but I’ve learned a lot from my grandfather. By the time I was like 3, I’ve known the name and use for every tool in the shop,” he said. “He’s been around a long time; he knows stuff.”

Learning how to change a tire and the oil in a car perhaps led Barrett-Schneider to his future objective: becoming a mechanic of some kind. At Harmony, he also learned how to live on a budget and pay bills.

Harmony lead teacher Shane Toy is glad to have been able to help. “He’s conscientious and diligent. He has goals. He’s hitting on all cylinders and he’s been a great example for younger kids.”

For younger kids, Barrett-Schneider advises, “Try your best and find what works for you. Seek out alternatives if you have to or at least someone who will listen. And don’t take school for granted. It’s a privilege.”

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