Suspended futures: finding better school discipline methods

Some schools reconsider suspension as a corrective measure

Published: Monday, March 18 2013 12:15 a.m. MDT

Guerrero's language barrier, plus a reading disability, meant she was already behind in academics when she started school. The older she became, the less comfortable she felt among rows of white children with life advantages she lacked, in classes taught by teachers who couldn't find the time or means to help her.

"I got no help at home — my mom was always working," she said. "I didn't have the support of anyone at that time."

Though she acted out at school as she got older, and skipped most of her classes, Guerrero liked her biology classes, had an affinity for the subject, and tried to attend regularly. School suspensions — one about a month long — made it impossible to keep up.

She remembers alternative school being brought up as a threat when she misbehaved at the high school she attended. Ironically, Guerrero made her own choice to enroll at Horizonte Instruction and Training Center, an alternative school for non-traditional students, after her expulsion. For her, it was an alternative that worked. She was pregnant when she entered, and credits her then-unborn child for motivating her to succeed.

"I didn't want my daughter to end up the same way I did," Guerrero said. "I decided I was going to prove to anyone that I could this. And I proved everyone wrong."

At Horizonte, she found small classes and teachers willing to delve into her learning problems and find solutions. She was given encouragement and opportunities.

Guerrero joined the school's MESA — Math, Engineering, Science Achievement — program and thrived. She graduated from Horizonte in spring of 2012 with a $1,000 scholarship to Salt Lake Community College.

Life is still a work in progress for Guerrero. She stayed in college until she ran out of money, but plans to return. Currently, she is a stay-at-home mother of two daughters. She has made a relatively stable life with the father of one of the children, who supports the family

Guerrero is adamant when she says she will return to college, and to work. Because she rose above the discipline problems that almost derailed her life, she will have her hard-earned high school diploma in hand to smooth the way.

Email: cbaker@desertnews.com

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