When Austin Groves transferred to Map High School during his freshman year, he’d been missing more classes than he attended.
Students at Map – an acronym for Multi-agency Adolescent Program – have a mental health diagnosis that interferes with learning, so the small, individualized school environment is tailored to their needs.
“These are kids that haven’t been successful in a traditional style or setting. They really do blossom here,” said teacher Lori Waldo, noting that most people would never guess someone has a mental illness if you meet them on the street.
“You can have a mental illness and be very, very successful and live a good quality life. There’s really hope out there,” she said.
Groves is a good example. With a combination of ADHD and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, sitting for long periods was difficult, and anxiety and agoraphobia made leaving the house hard.
In sixth grade, when Groves had a personality clash with a teacher, he began having panic attacks at school that were exacerbated when kids made fun of his weight and coloring, a result of the arthritis.
“I was fat and purple. One girl called me Barney,” he recalled. Over the next three years he missed more and more school, sometimes going home after less than a class period.
But the senior is quick to claim responsibility for his setbacks.
“I had problems with people in leadership positions telling me what to do. I didn’t help my situation,” Groves said.
“You would never know this was the same kid that walked through the door,” said mental health therapist BJ Snyder. “In his personal life, adults haven’t been real consistent, follow through with things or dependable. That’s why we saw those problems with authority. He’s really learned to trust and take risks.”
On Groves’ first day at Map, a student asked him to sit at her table, one of a string of gestures from classmates and staff that Groves said helped him open up over the past few years.
“I’m really taking pride in how far I’ve come. Now I talk to random people on the bus,” Groves said. He’s since earned trust and responsibility at work, at youth group and school, and he co-led a socialization group to help students get out of their comfort zones, something he understands well.
“He’s been a peer leader, co-led peer groups. He’s working at a day care. This is a kid that in the very beginning wouldn’t go any place outside his home. Now he’s taking the bus,” Snyder said, adding that Groves now has an excellent attendance record at school and at his volunteer job.
“He doesn’t miss work unless he’s desperately ill. He has a really good work ethic,” Synder said. “He’s really a self-motivated person.”
Waldo said Groves also shows respect, handles disagreements with maturity and demonstrates leadership and kindness toward other students.
“We’ve seen him grow in taking responsibility and ownership,” she said. “He’s grown so much in a short time. It’s been a pleasure watching him blossom.