Madilyn Lee Wiertalla doesn’t see anything particularly noteworthy about a high school path that ended with graduation from Medical Lake Endeavors, a small student-centered alternative program made up of about 40 students from Medical Lake and surrounding communities.
Transferring from the traditional high school to Endeavors wasn’t Wiertalla’s idea, but when it was proposed to her as an alternative that might give her a greater chance of success than the more customary route, she was quick to agree to it.
“I had no idea what I was doing or what I wanted to do,” she said, “and I missed a lot of school. I was missing a couple credits after my freshman year, mostly because I just went to school when I felt like it. I had some health issues, too, and I didn’t want to put in the effort that it would take to do better.
“I started out going more at the beginning of sophomore year, but that didn’t last long, and when the principal and my counselor had a meeting with me about my attendance and ways to resolve it, Endeavors sounded like a better idea.”
Because she has trouble focusing in large classrooms, she said “this was different because it was much smaller.”
Students at Endeavors have the option to study using traditional methods or online. They range in age from 14 to 21, with schedules built to accommodate their needs.
That perfectly suited Wiertalla, who after three semesters at Medical Lake High School was overwhelmed by the task in front of her if she hoped to graduate on time.
With her family in the military, she had moved to Medical Lake from Okinawa in the sixth grade and experienced numerous social problems in middle school. Those issues continued during her freshman year, and trying to ignore them obviously wasn’t working.
“I just wasn’t able to focus in high school,” she said, “but as soon as I came to Endeavors, most of those problems disappeared. I was welcomed there right away, and even though I was in a different school, it’s so close to the high school that I still got to see my friends.
“Teachers here are able to care about every student individually, and not just their big classes,” she said.
Wiertalla met every day with Keith Dunlop, her mentor. By her junior year, she had made up most of her missed credits, and she finally started thinking about her future.
“It’s been my dream for a long time to join the military, and I hope to enlist in the Air Force next year,” Wiertalla said. “I have a lot of family history in the military, and one of the big things that kept me from quitting was that I knew I needed to graduate to enlist. I want to be a jet engine mechanic.”
Dunlop said Wiertalla’s graduation is a testament to her hard work and belief in herself.
“She wasn’t making great progress when she first came to us,” Dunlop said, “but something clicked for her, and she started to feel successful. She really started shining when we had to go totally online last year.
“Madilyn really manages her time well, and she flourished in the remote program. Seeing that she could earn credits at her own pace really motivated her.”
So, as it turns out, her path has been pretty noteworthy after all.
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