Sometimes, seeing a friendly face can turn a day around. And sometimes it can help to turn a life around. That’s what happened to Three Springs High School senior Tristin Leonard when he reunited with Principal Catheleen Scott.
Leonard’s school history until his sophomore year had included more downs than ups. He says that he had been bullied in elementary school, eventually threatening another student, an act that resulted in an emergency expulsion. He didn’t attend school for a whole year after that.
“It felt like everybody was against me,” he said. “The only people on my side were Catheleen (a school social worker at the time) and my parents.”
Middle school, he says, was relatively uneventful because he reconnected with old friends and committed to “not doing anything stupid,” as he puts it. But then came high school.
“My freshman year, I fell in with the wrong group,” he said. “Then we moved to Idaho for three months and I wasn’t enrolled in school. I was at rock bottom, with no friends. When we moved back to Cheney, my Student Connections teacher suggested Three Springs. She said it was smaller and more hands-on than regular school and that I might be able to learn better there.
“I started at Three Springs near the end of my freshman year. I was already behind in credits and had been skipping school.”
It made a huge difference to him seeing his old social worker there. The positive feelings were shared.
“Tristin never gives up,” Scott said. “He has persevered through many life challenges, and always asks himself what he can do when he faces them. He has a growth mindset and sees solutions in the face of barriers. He is kind, empathetic and caring.”
The changes in Leonard didn’t occur immediately. He came to regret his earlier attitude and behavior, but he was still stressed out about school. Only two people in his family had graduated from high school, and it wasn’t certain that he would be the third. Then, gradually, things began to shift.
“Over the years,” he said, “it was hard for me to pay attention in school. After my sophomore year, I was really stressing out still. But when I started to channel my negative energy into schoolwork, I started getting caught up. I was almost there during junior year, and at the beginning of senior year, I made up the rest of my credits. My GPA at Cheney was 0.3, but the last two years here I have a 3.3.”
He says that the biggest difference lies in his commitment to getting his work done. He describes his younger self as arrogant and closed-minded, and has realized that was a defense against a world that frequently seemed hostile.
“My life is way better now,” he said. “And I think that if I hadn’t been bullied, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I try to live my life now with a glass half-full in every aspect, because I found that it’s way better to be open-minded and caring.
“I would tell others in a situation like mine back then to focus on family and friends, because eventually the people giving you a hard time won’t matter. I surround myself with supportive friends now, and I sometimes look back and ask, ‘Who was that kid?’”