by Bob Grawey
Anyone in need of inspiration only need attend an Ivan Sand Community School graduation ceremony.
Of eight graduating seniors who spoke, all of them told of why or how they ended up at the alternative school, and what they had to overcome to graduate.
Senior grad Cecelia, or CeCe as she is known, Skramstad grew up surrounded by the influence of drug addictions that included family members and friends. Then, just before sixth grade, she, too, began using drugs.
Skramstad said she only got into serious trouble, though, when she reached high school. Due to drugs and their influence on Skramstad, she began seeing the inside of court rooms and treatment centers.
Finally, the troubled teen was sent to Ivan Sand, but her problems were not over.
“I have a bit of a temper, especially when it comes to authority,” Skramstad admits. “I caused all hell for anyone who crossed my path just because I could.”
That temper, however, got her suspensions and by the time Skramstad realized the importance of her education, she told everyone present it was almost too late.
“That’s when I decided it was time to kick it into gear,” she said, “and come hell or high water, I was going to graduate on time with my class.”
With the help and patience of Ivan Sand staff, Skramstad met her goal.
Fellow graduating senior Alyse Oban echoed Skramstad.
Ivan Sand staff set her down after she had problems with school work for so long that it became evident she might not graduate with her class.
Aside from struggles with depression, anxiety and an obsessive compulsive disorder, Oban also had a learning disability. It was something she only discovered in the eighth grade.
“I began to notice I was having trouble comprehending my homework to the point where I couldn’t even take a test in a classroom with my classmates,” Oban recalled. “I acted out in class because I couldn’t stand to be around others when I was struggling so badly to keep up and learn at the same time. I was embarrassed because I knew I was different.”
School staff members created an Individualized Education Plan for Oban and it made her realize she was not “stupid.”
“When my junior year started, I began to turn my life around,” Oban said. “I was happy and no longer a prisoner in my own skin.”
The change has been remarkable for the graduate. In February of this year, Oban was honored with the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs’ Student of the Year award.
“All my hard work finally paid off,” Oban told the commencement audience Tuesday night. “I went from the girl who couldn’t sit in class to the girl who graduated and plans to go to college this fall to become a medical assistant and then a registered nurse.”
For Emily Pietrzak, life began falling apart when her step-father died in 2008. She said at that time she gave up on family, friends and most of all, herself.
Failing 10th grade, Pietrzak was sent to Ivan Sand. After just a short while, though, depression sent her spiraling downward once again.
“I was failing badly,” Pietrzak remarked. “I never showed up at school and when I did, it was four hours late. I didn’t care any more. It felt as if life couldn’t become worse and there was no point to try any more.”
But it did get worse when staff informed Pietrzak that there was no possibility she would graduate on time.
“I felt like a complete failure,” she told the audience. “I couldn’t believe this was happening to me.”
Then a turn of events changed Pietrzak’s course when her mother met Dale, a man she called her “soul mate.”
“He was an amazing man and cared so much for my mother and me,” Pietrzak said. “This man turned out to be my angel. He made a big impact on my life and said I needed to kick my butt into gear. So, I did.”
Pietrzak graduated this past February and has been attending classes at North Hennepin Community College studying law enforcement.
“I have found my calling,” she beamed, “and I want to help those in need just like the staff at Ivan Sand helped me.”
Graduating senior Andrea Curtis is also attending college after graduation. She will be going to Hennepin Technical College in the fall.
She told those present that attending Ivan Sand made her realize her potential and that she was smart.
“People see Ivan Sand as a place for kids who have problems and can’t do anything,” Curtis told everyone. “But they are wrong. Ivan Sand is here to help others who need help on the sideline. I was one of those students.”
Skramstad shared her philosophy with her classmates — if something did not kill them, their experiences served to make them stronger, and that with every negative there is always a positive.
“We aren’t bad kids. We just had some hard times in our lives,” Pietrzak mused. “Standing up here with my classmates, I can proudly say that we didn’t let the worst get to us. We overcame the obstacles we received in life and now we are ready to take on whatever may be thrown at us throughout life. Congratulations to the class of 2011. WE DID IT!”