Students celebrated for changing lives

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Tayler Rains, Carley Hammond, Michelle Stensen and Alex Peters were honored at the annual Turnaround Achievement Awards last week. (KEIZERTIMES/Lyndon A. Zaitz)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

The four Keizer students recognized for making major shift in their approaches to life and school last week with the Turnaround Achievement Award are all very different, but each persevered through challenges that would have sunk someone with less character.

McNary High School’s Alex Peters, Blanchet Catholic School’s Michelle Stenson, Claggett Creek Middle School’s Carley Hammond and Whiteaker Middle School’s Tayler Rains were all honored at the annual banquet sponsored by Town & Country Lanes.

Alex Peters

When Celtic counselor Carrie Brown met Alex Peters four years ago, he told her exactly what he thought of school.

“The message he gave us was I don’t want to be here, this place sucks,” Brown said.

When his teachers and parents met with him to discuss his lack of effort, nothing much improved. His adoptive father offered him the keys to a 1978 Chevy Suburban if he managed to turn things around, but the family needed to sell the car before Peters got his chance at the keys, but he had a new motivator. He was to become a father himself.

“For a long time it was the idea of the car that kept me going, it was a comfort,” Peters said. “Once I had my son, I knew I had to keep up my grades for myself and him.”

Peters’ son, Bradlee, is now seven months old.

Peters is still catching up on school work, but he won’t be too far behind his graduating class. He has his sights set on attending Chemeketa Community College and then moving on to Western Oregon University with the goal of becoming a sign language interpreter. Peters’ was born to deaf parents and seeing their struggles set him on the path.

“There are a lot of interpreters out there who don’t care and I want to help change that,” he said.

Michelle Stenson

When Michelle Stenson started sixth grade at Blanchet Catholic School, she had one goal: be invisible.

“When I asked her what courses she wanted to take, she replied, ‘none,’” said Marsha Lyons, the middle school vice principal at Blanchet. “She made it clear she did not want to be there and she preferred to follow that route.”

Stenson begrudgingly started on a path to change as she progressed through middle school and blossomed in high school.

“It was because my aunt and uncle taking me in and the school being so accepting and understanding that I just kind of grew,” Stenson said.

One of the larger factors in her turnaround was getting involved with the Cavalier volleyball program.

“It was a family, the way our teams are set up, we are a family. If we have a problem with each other, we’re not a family or a team and we weren’t going to get anything done,” Stenson said.

She now plans to study psychology and art education in college and carries a 3.9 GPA from her junior and senior years. She wants to be a counselor and help guide others who might be on the wrong path.

“I just want people to know that, for somebody like me, I never thought I would get that kind of recognition. But, by getting that award, it means that people really are paying attention to the way we decide to change our lives,” she said.

Middle Schools

As a sixth grader, Whiteaker’s Tayler Rains had enormous trouble just finding the motivation to get to class. She’s now passing all of her classes and has a nearly perfect attendance record.

“I want to say thank you to my parents and I would like you to know I’ve been trying and I couldn’t have done it without you guys, Rains said.

Claggett Creek’s Carley Hammond struggled in school as her mother struggled with personal demons.

But, when her mom decided to turn her life around, Tayler did, too. She went from a 1.3 GPA to a 4.0 in the span of a single academic year and is enrolled in the AVID program that has a goal of sending all its graduates on to college.

“I’m very proud of [my mom] and myself, and the AVID program. I wouldn’t be able to be where I am without them,” Carley said.

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