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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘I thought I was a lost cause’: New Vision High School grad Thomas Hagenbarth reflects on nontraditional path to success

Thomas Hagenbarth of New Vision High School says he will miss the teachers who held him accountable after he graduates and plans to take with him all that he’s learned.  (Courtesy)
By Joe Everson For The Spokesman-Review

It’s well known that large comprehensive high schools do not work for every student, and that a range of non-traditional programs offer opportunities to those who might not have success in “normal” schools.

So meet Thomas Hagenbarth, a walking advertisement for alternative education now that he’s graduating from New Vision High School this spring.

“The classes at New Vision are small, so I couldn’t hide out there. And when I turned in poor work, my teachers didn’t buy it. They held me accountable, and that was a big adjustment. Their expectations were high, but once I got it, everything changed for me. And now I’m going to graduate on time.”

Hagenbarth attended Post Falls High School during his freshman year, fell behind in credits, and a referral to New Vision came that summer. But even the change of schools didn’t click right away for him.

“At first, I was slacking off,” he said, “but by the second or third week there, I knew that I was going to do some good stuff. One thing I noticed right away was the connection that students had with their teachers. The teachers at New Vision genuinely want to be there and help every student.”

It didn’t happen overnight.

“I have always been told about the great potential I have, but for a long time, stuff at school just went in one ear and out the other. When I started paying attention and taking in information, I realized that I could do more.”

New Vision math instructor Clinton Paris has noticed a big change in Hagenbarth over the last three years.

“Thomas has matured so much,” he said. “I think that now he understands the value of education in a way that he didn’t when he got here. He has gained perspective, and it’s been great to see his buy-in to our program.”

During his junior and senior years, Hagenbarth has attended New Vision half-days and the rest of his day at the Kootenai Technical Education Campus, in the construction program.

At this point, he’s not planning to enroll in any post-secondary programs right away, and will instead work with his father in the concrete business. He doesn’t necessarily see that as a career, though, hoping at some point to study forestry.

For now, it’s enough for him to look back at what he’s learned during the past three years.

“Basically, I was a slacker until I got to New Vision,” he said. “I’ve never been a great student, and I was always the class clown. I got in trouble a lot in elementary and middle school.”

“I think from where I started, I’ve grown a lot. I hold myself accountable, and I try hard to always do what’s right. I’ve learned that I’m actually pretty smart, and that I actually enjoy learning.”

He said that he will miss New Vision after he graduates, but will take with him the lessons he’s learned there.

“Don’t put yourself down,” he said, “and don’t allow others to put you down. Control what you can control, and don’t worry about the rest. I thought I was a lost cause, and all the attention I got was for the wrong reasons. I’ve learned that you can be good at things if you want to.”