By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
The former principal of Monroe Elementary School was in for a shock when she came to Lincoln Academy last week.
Waiting for her was a student she never thought was going to finish school. In fact, the last Kay Kiner heard, young Clark Kent had dropped out.
“You were my inspiration,” Kent told her. “You were the only one who helped me. I wouldn’t have even made it through elementary without you.”
Kent, 19, graduates high school this month, though the road to this point took some twists and turns. Even in grade school, Kent was getting into fights.
“I was mad at the world when I was younger,” Kent said. “I always took people picking on me the wrong way and I wanted to fight them. It’s not that I had a learning disability. I had a hard head.”
Kiner said she’ll never forget the football game where every member of the opposing team was hanging on to Kent’s legs, but Kent determinedly kept on running.
Kent’s father died when he was 15, and his anger at the world did not get better. Eventually, Kent was suspended from school. Early last school year, he called Jarry Hillman, principal at Lincoln Academy, and enrolled.
“What I remember you telling me is, it’s not about the goal you have, it’s about the journey before the goal,” he told the astonished Kiner.
“That’s the best Christmas present ever, that you brought yourself back to school,” Kiner told him. “I’m so glad you did, because the last thing I heard was not good. I’m so proud of you — so proud.”
Kiner asked Kent to come talk to her fifth-grade students at McKinley, where she now is principal.
Kent works a full-time job and attends classes at Lincoln after he gets off work.
“He works at 4 in the morning, gets off and comes right to school,” Hillman said.
Dakota Ecker, also graduating in December, said Karen Martin, director of services at Autry Technical School, is who got him to come back to school.
“My junior year, I was at Enid High,” Ecker said. “It wasn’t a good year for me. I dropped out. I lost my job, lost my vehicle, and lost a couple of my close friends.”
Martin persuaded Ecker to attend both Autry and Lincoln. Now he gets up at 3 a.m., works out at a gymnasium, goes to his job from 7 a.m. until noon, goes to Autry from noon until 3:30 p.m., and goes to night school at Lincoln. He’ll finish studies at Autry in May.
Leeann Hallman also graduates this month. She gives credit to Kim Jones, formerly the principal at Emerson, for providing her with the support she needed to stay in school.
Hallman has health issues that caused her to pass out during school, but Jones was always supportive.
“She made sure I stayed in school, because she saw I had potential,” Hallman said.
Hallman transferred to Lincoln the second semester of her junior year.
“Everybody around me has worked with me so I can finish school,” she said.
Brittany Thomas, who lives in Hennessey, credits her mother with inspiring her to go back to school after dropping out of Enid High School. EHS was not a good fit for her, largely because of its size. She lost interest in school and didn’t care or try to keep up in classes.
“When I did drop out of school, she was really disappointed,” Thomas said. “My brother dropped out and didn’t finish. When I told her I was going back to school, she was really proud of me.”
For Nathan Cushman, the offer of well-paying, full-time work made him opt to leave Chisholm High School.
“I was kind of in a bind at the time and needed the money,” Cushman said. “My mom and sister were really sick, and I thought the best I could do was help them out with their medical bills.”
Autry instructor Steve Baynes, while teaching small-engine repair, also taught him life lessons, Cushman said
“He was like a counselor to me,” Cushman said. “He gave me both views and told me to take the best way.”
For Kaleb Webster, who will graduate in May, Hillman himself was the inspiration to go back to school.
Webster got acquainted with Hillman while working at Atwoods, where Hillman shopped for garden plants. Hillman asked Webster one day how things were.
“I told him I had dropped out of school because I needed to work,” Webster said. “He said this was unacceptable and invited me to attend Lincoln to finish my senior year. My parents had gotten a divorce, I wrecked my truck, lost my job, but I had promised Mr. Hillman that I would not quit school. I am scheduled to graduate in May, and nothing is going to change that.”