Some teachable moments last longer than others. Take Michael Bruce Chamberlain’s, for example.
The Pratt Academy senior spent 2½ years at North Central High School before finding his niche as a junior at Pratt, which offers a small, personalized learning environment with a blend of technology-based courses, career exploration, and project-based learning. The school prides itself on building strong teacher-student relationships.
That has certainly been the case for Chamberlain, who remembers his time at North Central less than fondly. Despite his involvement in school activities such as football, a winter weights program, and an after-school YMCA study-and-gym project, Chamberlain says that he had frequent disciplinary issues there and didn’t feel that he was getting the support that he needed to be successful.
After spending most of his final two semesters there in a classroom without much direct contact with instructors, Chamberlain found himself frustrated and angry and, as he puts it, simply got up one day, walked out of school, and didn’t return. When he left, he says, he was seven credits – more than a full year – behind.
“I had heard about Pratt Academy,” he said, “but mostly that it was a school for bad kids. I had a friend there who told me that it was where kids went when they got kicked out of school.”
He had already been enrolled in the Construction Technology course at Newtech Skill Center, a hands-on career preparation program open to students from 11 Spokane-area school districts. He had originally been interested in the Fire Science program, but lack of transportation to that course’s site eliminated that possibility.
“I figured the next best thing for me was construction, because I would learn how to read blueprints, so that if I ever became a firefighter, I would have knowledge of how houses are laid out,” he said. “It was awesome. The first day that I got to Newtech, I had an amazing teacher, Chuck Sauer.
“And when I started at Pratt about a week after I left NC, it turned out to be just as awesome. Everyone there was very welcoming, and the way that classes are set up is the way that a school should be, with smaller classes and more teachers for more help. I was very grateful to get out and go to another school and very happy to be in a different situation.
“I feel that Pratt and Newtech gave me the opportunity that I needed to be successful. I made up a year’s worth of credits in three semesters. I sat at my computer for days and days, made up about half of those last year and the rest my senior year.”
Sauer, Michael’s Construction instructor, returns the compliment.
“We just helped him with the tools to take the next step,” he said. “Michael has put in the hard work. He came back a second year to be in a crew leader position, with the added responsibility of having to show what he learned the first year. Mr. Chamberlain is a good man and will be successful at whatever he puts his mind to!”
As many of the students in Newtech’s state-recognized pre-apprenticeship program do, Michael will follow that route, having chosen a sheet-metal apprenticeship after comparing and contrasting several other fields, including carpentry, bricklaying, and electrical work. He plans after five years to have his journeyperson’s card, good in all 50 states.
And what did he get from that teachable moment?
“I learned that I’m capable and disciplined, and that I know how to survive in an environment that I didn’t like, until I found something better for me. My whole high-school experience taught me about grit.”
Joe Everson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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