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Friday, August 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane student overcomes severe anxiety to pursue college aspirations

Lydia Barrett is a student at the On Track Academy who is taking advantage of the SOTAP program at Spokane Public Schools to complete her diploma while also taking classes at Spokane Falls Community College. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Lydia Barrett is a student at the On Track Academy who is taking advantage of the SOTAP program at Spokane Public Schools to complete her diploma while also taking classes at Spokane Falls Community College. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Lydia Barrett still speaks in a quiet voice.

That she’s talking at all speaks volumes about her determination during a life-changing year at the On Track Academy.

A year ago, Barrett was so stricken with social anxiety disorder that she couldn’t handle a traditional high school setting. She was on the verge of failing her sophomore year at North Central.

Now Barrett, a junior, has an early start toward a college degree. She hopes to be a nurse or midwife.

“Success builds on success,” she said recently from Spokane Falls Community College, the setting for a unique program that allows Barrett and others from On Track to take college-level classes along with high school courses.

Success didn’t happen overnight, and Barrett did most of the heavy lifting herself. Medications, a spiritual awakening at a Christian youth camp in Canada, and a change of scenery all played a part in Barrett’s remarkable turnaround.

Barrett’s social anxieties have played out on two continents. After moving from Montana to Spokane in the third grade, she spent several years in Morocco, where her father worked for Young Life Christian ministries.

Living in the conservative Muslim city of Fez, she had to conform to social norms but still stuck out in a crowd.

“For sure I felt like I didn’t fit in,” said Barrett, whose mother and grandmother also suffered from social anxiety.

Back in Spokane as an eighth-grader at Glover Middle School, she recalls feeling “like I was going to throw up every morning,” Barrett said.

Freshman year in back in Morocco made the situation worse, as her old friends “had moved on” and her sister moved back to Spokane.

“We were best friends, and when she left, I got really depressed – that was the breaking point,” Barrett said.

“I’ve always had a fear of being judged, and anything that would attract attention was so hard – I felt so insecure,” Barrett said.

Barrett hit rock-bottom last year as a sophomore at NC, suffering panic attacks in the middle of school. Taking online classes didn’t work either “because I wasn’t motivated,” Barrett said.

Then her mother learned about the On Track Academy, an alternative school that emphasizes conforming pace of learning to each student, not the other way around.

After meeting with a counselor, “I decided I wanted to do this,” Barrett said.

During the summer, Barrett found another source of support. During a Young Life camp in Canada, “I heard God tell me to let this go … God saved me,” she said.

Barrett finally saw the truth: “That you can’t let anxiety control you.”

She gained control of her academic future in On Track’s SOTAP program, which is located at SFCC. Students attend college classes while concurrently completing their high school coursework and graduation requirements.

Students are independent, motivated to be college students and are equipped with the transition skills to negotiate college on their own.

The program is similar to Running Start, but as teacher Rick Havermann points out, the program’s success rate “isn’t as high as you might think.”

That’s because some high schoolers can’t juggle college-level classes while still being engaged in the high school scene.

“I tell them we have to crawl before we walk and before we run,” said Havermann, whose students are limited to just one college class in their first quarter in the program.

The key to the program, Havermann believes, is the district’s commitment to having two teachers in On Track classes.

“Success starts at the top,” he said.

It also doesn’t come from a cookie-cutter approach.

“Not all students learn the same way,” Barrett said. “The teachers are there to help you in the way you learn.”

Barrett is taking it from there. By spring of 2020, she expects to have a high school diploma and up to 55 college credits.

“Now I have a lot more confidence in myself,” she said.

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