Saturday, January 11, 2014

Confessions From a High School Drop-Out

Today, I'm going to tell my story of why I left high school at sixteen years old. Before I begin though, I don't want anyone reading this story with pre-concieved notions and judgements, so let me clear some things up. No, I wasn't a lazy student. I didn't lack motivation and I didn't lack intelligence. I did not leave high school to sit on my ass all day and do nothing. In fact, the year everyone was graduating, I was co-creating and co-producing a TV show pilot with a cast of forty actors from around the country ranging from ages thirteen to sixty, twenty teenage background actors, fifteen locations, and eighteen hour days. No one forced me to spend a year of my life working like that. I chose it. I created it. And I loved it.

But working on "Little Blossom" is not what I'm here to talk about. I'm here to talk about my decision to leave high school with the full support of my parents.
"I did not fail the school system. The school system failed me."

From 2nd grade onwards, I had a lot of trouble staying healthy. I was susceptible to any and every virus that wandered the halls and I always got it. I never faked being sick (okay, maybe once or twice in early elementary school!). My family has always believed in health. They'd rather take care of their sick children instead of unleash their germs onto everyone else. Imagine that, right!? Wanting your kids to get healthy. Anyways, as we found out years later, my immune system was low due to many allergies my family was unaware of at the time.

The Cherry Creek School District never supported my health issues. In 2nd grade, my teacher wanted us to walk everyday. Okay. That's healthy. I understand that. On the day of a very cold blizzard though, she still wanted us to walk. I've always been sensitive to cold temperatures and I told her I didn't want to walk that day. She called my parents and told them that I was afraid of the snow. It was absolutely ridiculous. I played in the snow all the time. I just didn't want to freeze for twenty minutes with snow blasting in my face. I still don't want to do that. This caused an entire ruckus that led to my parents having to come in to meet with my teacher, the principal, and the school nurse. Needless to say, my dad, who's a world renowned doctor, was not pleased when the school nurse tried to teach him about health.

In 5th grade, my class was going on a field trip and I realized I forgot my jacket. My teacher scolded me in front of the class to the point where I began to cry. She was upset at me, an eleven year old, for not thinking ahead of time and bringing my jacket to class. All I wanted was to stay warm and she didn't care. Thankfully, my art teacher saw me crying in the hallway and brought me a jacket.

In 6th grade, I began getting sick a lot more. I was out for weeks at a time back and forth. I had piles of makeup assignments and I would spend every day working on them. One day, I went into my science class to get help from my teacher during recess. She yelled at me, told me I was lazy, and accused me of being truant. I fled from the room, tears in my eyes. I was just a student trying to get by and learn what I had missed. If I was truant, why would I come in during recess for help? Why would I care enough? I didn't understand why I was being treated so horribly. I believed that it must've been my fault in some way. Afterwards, I sat in the hallway outside of my social studies teacher's class. He was my favorite teacher. In fact, I visited him every year up until I moved two years ago. He came out from his classroom and saw me crying. He sat next to me, listened to my story, and sympathized with me. He talked to me and encouraged me. I was able to go to the rest of my classes that day because of him.

There are some stories from 7th grade, like the teacher I wrote a ten page essay for, that he then had another student present at a competition. It was my work and I felt incredibly betrayed. 8th grade though, that was the beginning of the end for me. I was out every few weeks, ill, and again, buried in makeup assignments. My makeup assignment folder was jam packed with a hopeless amount of assignments. One day, my history teacher asked me to come in during recess so he could explain a project I had missed. As you can understand, I hadn't felt very comfortable doing this since 6th grade. Every time I tried to talk to a teacher, I had been yelled at. This time, I mustered up the courage to go in. What could possibly happen? He wants to help me with my assignment! Hah. What a laugh. I went in and instead of giving me the help I needed, he saw my overwhelmingly large makeup assignment folder and accused me of being unorganized. I'm not unorganized. I created a booklet listing my DVDs at home by category and by actor. I am far from unorganized. But, he took one look at this pile and decided instead of helping me with my assignment, he would sit me down for my entire recess and have me reorganize my binder. During this time, he paced the classroom and explained to me for forty minutes why I would never be successful in life. At the end of the period, he handed me a piece of paper with information on the assignment. I spent all night working on this assignment. When I turned it in, he took one look at it and scoffed. When I got it back, I saw that he had marked me down because I didn't do multiple things that he purposely left off the list. Needless to say, I switched history classes that year. However, because I was falling so far behind in my classes, my family decided that one class of mine could be dropped. I couldn't keep up no matter how hard I tried. The class that made the most sense was my advanced placement math class. It was a no brainer. It was an advanced class and I could retake it in high school. My parents emailed my teacher back and forth over this matter, explaining to her that I was dropping the class. My teacher agreed to let me read a book and work on makeup assignments during class in the meantime. That same teacher, then went to the principal complaining that I wasn't doing my work. She tried to get my parents in trouble and my parents ended up receiving a letter from the school about my truancy, claiming that I would be taken away if they didn't get it under control. I'll add that I had doctor's notes every single time I was sick. My parents printed out the emails they had shared with my math teacher and brought them into the principals office for a meeting. Luckily, this is where my teacher wasn't very smart. Everything she agreed to had been written down. In the end, I was able to drop the class and retake it in 9th grade.

9th grade my teachers weren't all that bad. I liked most of them. I still was dealing with being sick but overall, my teachers were supportive and I thrived in my math class that year. The only problem I had was that I never saw my history teacher. When I was sick, he was teaching. When I was in school, he was off playing golf tournaments. I literally only saw him twice that year, so I had no idea what was ever going on in that class.

This brings me to 10th grade. The year I dropped out. The year my family and I finally decided enough was enough. Before I delve that year, I have to explain the summer before 10th grade first. My family went on a road trip to Mt. Rushmore. On this trip, I discovered that I was suddenly highly allergic to pine trees; so much so that my body ended up covered in rashes, my ears would clog, and my throat would start closing up. Luckily, I never needed an EpiPen, just some Benadryl, which would wipe me out for days at a time.

Why is that story important? That's coming up now, in my 10th grade science class. Let me start by saying that for a while, I loved this class. I thought the teacher was great, I enjoyed my classmates immensely. Little did I know at the time, this was the class that was going to cause me a complete mental breakdown. Part way through the school year, my class did a study on plants. We went outside and I started reacting to what I learned was a ponderosa pine tree, as I stayed standing underneath it. My teacher saw my reaction and a student led me to the nurse's office. After this reaction, I was sick for a couple of weeks. When I came back, I had missed a "test" on the different plants. My teacher told me I had to take the test. Fine. No problem. She then led me into the supply closet, told me each of the plants were on the shelf and I had to identify them. She told me I couldn't leave the closet until I was done and closed the door. This teacher knew I was highly allergic to this plant and she knowingly left me in a small enclosed space with it. Needless to say, I ended up being out sick for three more weeks because of my reaction. During this time, the class was getting ready for a group assignment, one that I was really excited for at the time. I came back to class with only two days before that project would begin. My teacher then told me that because she couldn't rely on me being healthy, I wasn't going to participate. I was devastated. My parents complained, told her she was discriminating against me for my allergies and illnesses and eventually got me in a group to do the assignment. You would think this saga would end there. No. After a few weeks of making up all of my assignments, I turned them in ahead of the deadline. When the grade reports came in, I had a D because I had supposedly failed weeks of my assignments. What we found out was then shocking. My teacher had taken it upon herself to lock my grade. She refused to count all of my hard work. At the time, I didn't even understand. Part of me knew what was happening but I was only sixteen. I somehow thought that this was just because I was stupid or a failure. I blamed myself. I was so depressed looking at my plummeting grade. I believed that grade marked my level of intelligence. I didn't believe in myself at all. That's what school had taught me all of these years. Not to believe in myself. For weeks, I could hardly find the will to make it out of bed in the morning and one day I finally broke. I couldn't do this anymore. I remember sitting in my parents master bathroom on the floor. Tears were streaming from my eyes and I was throwing a tissue box back and forth against the wall. My mom saw me crying, put her arms around me, and asked me what I wanted to do. What did I want to do? There was no question in my mind. I wanted to leave high school. I couldn't do this anymore. The amazing part was, my parents were completely supportive. They saw everything I had been through and they didn't want me to go through it anymore. For the rest of the year, I had dropped all of my classes except my video editing class. I stayed in that class till the end of the year because video editing was still what I wanted to do.

The terrible truth is, it's taken me a long time to not look at myself as a failure. Some days, I still struggle to find my confidence but I push myself everyday to build it back. I left school in 2007 and since then, I experienced so many other things that helped me regain my strength. As I said at the beginning of this, managing an entire film set was not an easy task at 18 years old. Taking charge was something I had never been able to do and it was a life changing experience for me.

In all honesty, had I had different experiences in school, maybe finishing high school and going to college would've taken me somewhere else in life. But to be honest, I'm happy with where I've ended up. If I had finished high school, I never would've had that amazing experience on "Little Blossom". If I had gone to college, I never would've met my husband on a trip to New Zealand in 2009, and he alone changed my world (read our love story here). The truth is, my interests have never needed a degree. I've always been into the arts and I work hard teaching myself new things all the time. My life long dream has always been to be a singer and last year I finally released my first EP, "Stepping Stone". Do I have some big successful career right now? No. Do I know exactly where I'm going in life? Of course not. But who does at 22 years old? Against all odds, my husband and I are happy and financially stable, and that's really all I could ask for.

The hardest part about dropping out of high school is telling people. Few people will take the time to listen and understand. So I want to thank everyone right now for listening to my story. I don't want to feel ashamed anymore. I don't want to try to hide this aspect of my life. This is a large part of who I am. When I say "this", I don't mean being a drop out. I mean the struggles I experienced for nine years leading up to that decision.

I'm not a drop-out. I'm a survivor.


  1. Incredibly well written story! It gave me flashbacks about dealing with the idiotic Cherry Creek School system. You have always been a hard worker, no one can ever take that away from you. Unfortunately, many people can't see past their own noses. You should be proud of everything that you've accomplished. And, you're right! You're only 22 years old! Hard to believe:) I am a very proud daddy!

  2. I'm so sorry it was so rough for you Justine. I hope all is well now and that you are happy.

    All the best!
    -Josh S

    1. Thank you Josh! It was a rough time but I am so glad I'm finally at a point where I'm able to accept it and feel stronger because of it. :)