Kyle Page, the principal of the Goal Academy, encouraged people to look for ways to invest in others at this week’s luncheon of the Rotary Club of Cleveland.
After speaking of how members of the club had been mentors to him over the years, he turned over the podium to a student to help explain what the Bradley County alternative school does for its students.
A courageous 17-year-old girl named Caitlin Jenkins shared how she had overcome drug addiction and begun to make positive plans for her future.
Jenkins said she attended Bradley Central High School for three years but was “kicked out” last October because she “took acid at school.”
It was the culmination of years of drug use. She said she came from a home where both of her parents were drug addicts. She added she was in the foster care system for most of her life, but her familiarity with drugs prompted her to use them.
Jenkins said her drug problem started when she was 12. She began smoking marijuana and began “experimenting with harder drugs every week.”
She said at the time she thought it was helping her cope with the depression she had been experiencing.
“In the past, when I got sad or angry, I would turn to drugs.” Jenkins said. “When I was high, I felt no pain.”
She said she credited both her faith and the staff of the Goal Academy for helping her see the need to quit the drugs and focus on her future.
After going to live with her aunt, she began attending church again. Though she had visited church before, she said she was “in denial” about the direction her life was heading.
When Jenkins had to leave Bradley Central and attend Goal Academy, she said she had to learn how to turn things around.
“God has a big role in my life and is why I have changed myself for the better,” Jenkins said. “Goal Academy has given me hope. The faculty there have taught me so much; they have given me a second chance and taught me that it’s never to late to try and become a better person.”
Since starting at the school, she said she has gotten sober and begun to make plans for the future. She has been serving as a member of the school’s student leadership team and thinking about her future career. Jenkins said she now wants to attend college and become a dental hygienist.
She said she credited the school with helping her see she was capable of overcoming her addiction, working toward finishing high school and making plans for afterward.
“You can’t change yourself if you don’t want to change,” Jenkins said. “I wanted to change, but I didn’t know how to come about it until I got sent to Goal Academy ... I can now say I believe in myself.”
Her speech was met with a standing ovation, with some Rotarians wiping away stray tears as they applauded how this student had found the determination to change her own life for the better.
Page stepped behind the podium, where he stood trying to regain his composure and his words. He said the same emotions permeating the meeting room that day were the same ones permeating the school on a daily basis.
Students with pasts like Jenkins’ do not just come from places like the projects in Atlanta or Nashville; students in Bradley County struggle with life-altering decisions each day.
Page said students who attend Goal Academy are referred to it for a variety of reasons. Some may struggle with addiction. Some may have behavioral issues. Some may be teenage parents. Some may have health issues that have put them significantly behind in their studies.
He said the school serves as an “emergency room” to help students facing a variety of situations. Having taken over as principal five years ago, Page said he never tired of seeing students’ lives get changed as they work with the school’s staff to help themselves overcome their situations.
Goal Academy has a variety of programs that help students take ownership of their educations. Students are assigned to teams like a leadership team, a technology team or a community relations team and complete related tasks.
Page said he believes giving the students opportunities to gain leadership experience is what has made a difference at the school, especially in terms of its graduation rate.
“Last year, we had a 100 percent graduation rate at an alternative school in Tennessee,” he said. “That doesn’t happen very often — if ever.”
Another big emphasis for the school is making sure students will be employable after they graduate. Page said school staff members work with each individual student to help them determine what they need to do to make themselves employable — whether it means giving up an addiction or simply changing the way one dresses at a job interview.
Page said he was grateful he had the opportunity to invest in Goal Academy’s students.
He then turned his attention to the importance of people telling their personal stories so they can help others succeed.
Growing up, Page said he had people who told him their stories, which had a positive impact on him. Now, as a father of three and a school principal, he said he takes very seriously the need to pour into the lives of others.
He said his view on what it means to invest is a pretty simple one. You put something in, and you get something out.
Page said pouring into the lives of others can result in people living more healthy, successful lives. He then challenged his audience to be mindful of that as they go through their everyday lives.
“Look for people and look for conversations to tell a story and invest in them,” Page said.