Everyone has a story, as Zaire Bue reminded the audience Wednesday evening at the intimate graduation ceremony hosted at Coastal Plains Education Charter High School’s Glynn site.
Bue was among four students who earned their diplomas during the winter commencement and among the three who were able to participate in the ceremony attended by families and teachers.
“I just want to share part of my story, part of my testimony, with the people here tonight,” said Bue, the graduation’s speaker, ahead of the event. “Maybe it can help them or help somebody else that went down the road that I went down. And now I’m going down a better road for myself, for my family, for my siblings.”
Coastal Plains Education Charter High School is a night high school program that serves students seeking an alternative learning structure. Many who attend the school also work full time and have other responsibilities outside of school or challenges other students haven’t faced.
Like at all schools this past year, the students and staff faced numerous challenges created by the pandemic. But rather than quit in the face of adversity, they carried on.
“If anyone earned their graduation, it’s the students that walk across the stage this time because they really had to persevere,” said Robert Pope, Glynn’s site director.
Pope said he saw staff and students this year do whatever needed to be done to reach success.
“Everyone here is focused on the students and on their families and on their needs,” he said. “Sometimes you hear stories that are almost overwhelming, to hear about the challenges that they faced. But students are still trying to come in and say, ‘I want my education.’”
The graduates honored Wednesday had each faced their own struggles. Natalie McClure said there was a point in her life she didn’t think she’d earn a high school diploma. While struggling with addiction, she had to put a pause on her education to attend rehab.
“It got to a point that nobody thought I was going to make it to my 18th birthday,” she said. “And then when I got there no one thought I would graduate.”
But she did, and Wednesday night she celebrated that accomplishment with her family.
The structure of Coastal Plains, which allows students to learn at their own pace and attend classes virtually in the afternoons and evenings while being supported by on-site teachers and mentors, helped McClure succeed. Next she plans to enroll in college and study business.
Bue, who lived in a foster home growing up, said she struggled to do well in the normal high school setting. The flexible night high school program was more conducive to her learning needs.
“At first when I came here I didn’t want to do the work,” she said. “… But the work here was easier to deal with, and my teachers were very helpful.”
Candece Smith, who also earned her diploma Wednesday, said she nearly quit the night high school program several times after giving birth to her daughter.
But the support she received at Coastal Plains helped her reach the graduation milestone, and her daughter Nova attended the ceremony to celebrate that achievement.
“They stay on top of you … If you miss a day, they’ll call and check on you,” Smith said. “I like it because they make sure that you’re comfortable. It’s like a close-knit family.”