GREENVILLE — Fourteen area students who might otherwise have fallen between the academic cracks instead graduated Tuesday evening in a ceremony held at Greenville High School.
The students represented the 2014 graduating class of Ombudsman Montcalm Center, an alternative high school for at risk students.
In 2009, several Montcalm County school districts and other area school districts contracted with Ombudsman Education Services to provide at-risk students with an alternative avenue for earning a high school diploma. Nine students in this year’s graduating class received Ombudsman diplomas; five graduated with district diplomas.
According to area Ombudsman Director Eric Wisniewski, the program typically receives between 45 to 50 students each year.
“It’s a program that serves several area school districts providing a means of education to high schoolers and a couple middle schoolers, as well,” Wisniewski said. “This is the first year we’ve had someone graduate with a full district diploma from each school.”
Ombudsman students are typically referred to school because of either academic or behavioral issues, Wisniewski said. The program’s smaller teacher-to-student ratio helps staff provide the extra attention the students often require to complete their high school education.
“When they come to us, they’re performing under an eighth grade level,” Wisniewski said. “The seniors who have gone through this overcome this and still manage to pull off a high school diploma.”
Jobs for American Graduates (JAG) instructor Richard Ward of Michigan Works presented the gathering with some of the teaching moments he has shared with the graduates during the past school year. A trip to Washington, D.C., figured prominently in his comments.
Community service projects also were part of the program’s curriculum.
“We cleaned up garbage, picked up around the Montcalm County area,” Ward said. “Work experience is part of the JAG program. They did a fine job; I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
District 70 State Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, addressed the graduating class as commencement speaker.
“I’m sure for most of you, this seems like a very long journey, but you persevered and accomplished what many though was an impossibility, because frankly, many people had probably written you off,” Outman said. “There are many who have accomplished much even though they struggled with school.”
Outman gave examples of struggling students who went on to achieve great things, such as Thomas Edison, Pablo Picasso, Woody Allen, poet Robert Frost and Winston Churchill among others.
“Some of you may continue on with your educational endeavors, enter the military, some may go into work force directly,” Outman said. “But you’re always going to be learning, no matter what path you may choose. Some of you may strike out a few times before you achieve your dreams. Don’t let that deter you.”
Outman also advised students to not forget their roots and stressed the value of a rural upbringing, saying the students should “reach for the stars.”
“Most things worth doing aren’t necessarily easy,” he said. “I challenge you to go out and make your mark on the world, whatever you decide that mark is.”
Following Outman’s comments, Wisniewski presented a slide show featuring photos of the graduates from their earliest childhoods through the present.
Seven graduating seniors were honored with nationally recognized awards, including the President’s Award for Educational Achievement, the President’s Award for Educational Excellence and the American Citizenship Award. The awards were presented to students by teacher Lisa Jensen.
“You guys did an amazing job and we’re so proud of you,” Jensen said. “You are all fantastic, you worked so hard.”