ENID, Okla. —
The perception of some in the public of Enid’s Lincoln Academy, the district’s alternative school, is it is the place for trouble makers, or slow learners.
Nothing, say the men and women of Lincoln Academy’s faculty, could be further from the truth.
“They think that’s where the bad kids go,” said 14-year veteran Lincoln Academy English teacher Kent Chesser. “We are the school where kids are just struggling in the regular classroom environment. If a kid is having to work 40, 60 hours just to pay the bills, it is hard for him to go to the traditional school all day.”
Not that Lincoln Academy students don’t have issues. According to a school handout, 69 percent exhibited excessive truancy, 21 percent were suspended for aggressive behavior, while 38 percent had other behavior problems.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Thirteen percent of Lincoln’s students are teen parents, while 2 percent have more than one child. Eight percent were battered by a spouse/partner; 33 percent were the victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse; 29 percent suffer from depression;, 28 percent live on their own; and 22 percent exhibit anxiety disorders.
Yet, since the school first opened in 1993, it has had a 90 percent success rate among its students, said principal Jarry Hillman.
“When kids come here they have their heads down, they have little or no self-esteem,” he said. “It is fun to see such a change in their demeanor when they have some success.”
Varied stories of students
One of Lincoln’s current success stories is senior Cameron Stittsworth.
“I wouldn’t be the person I am if I wasn’t at Lincoln,” he said. “I am proud to say I am Lincoln Academy. I’m a survivor. Lincoln changed my life, I’m happy.”
Stittsworth previously attended Kremlin-Hillsdale and Enid High.
“I’m not good at the big school,” he said about EHS. “Smaller classes are better for me. They want to teach you. It’s hands-on. They are there for you. They are motivators. They are here to make a difference.”
Without Lincoln, Stittsworth said, he would have dropped out of school. Now, he is on track to graduate in the spring with an eye on pursuing his first love, music.
“I’m happy I’m here,” he said. “It was a big breakthrough.”
Tyler McNeill already had dropped out, but when he learned he needed a high school diploma to realize his dream of becoming a U.S. Marine, he turned to Lincoln Academy.
“It’s a very good learning environment,” said McNeill. “You have more time with the teachers, it’s less crowded, a lot less drama. Overall it’s a more comfortable but structured environment. It’s a lot easier to focus.”
He credited Lincoln’s faculty for making the difference for students.
“The teachers are just overall good people, and they want to see you succeed,” he said. “That’s the thing I loved most about going here.”
McNeill reports to Marine Corps basic training in July, with the goal of working in security forces. Without Lincoln, he said, “I’d probably just be skatin’ by. I wouldn’t be fulfilling any goals or dreams.”
Ciara Zumalt, a junior at Lincoln, said she had difficulty focusing on her studies at Enid High and as a result couldn’t get her grades up. Large classes made learning difficult for her.
“I tried really hard to get into Lincoln, and whenever I did all this stress just went away, completely,” she said. “I actually found a reason why I wanted to come to school. I like learning now.
“This place is probably the best thing that’s happened to me since a long time.”
Lincoln’s teachers, she said, “are very caring. They don’t doubt you. They’ll do anything to help you. If you fall down they’ll pick you right back up.”
After graduating in 2014, Ciara hopes to obtain welding and piercing licenses and to study massage therapy.
Without Lincoln, she said, “I would probably still be in school, but I would not be doing very well. I probably would have gotten held back. No matter how hard I tried my brain couldn’t focus because there was so much going on around me.”