Don’t forget calm, quiet students — they may be hurting as much as those who rage

[Editor’s note: In April, I posted a story about how Lincoln High School reduced its suspensions 85% by using a new method of school discipline. So many people were intrigued by how Lincoln High works that we thought you might be interested in a series of essays by Lincoln’s staff and students. This is the third in that series.]  

Dakota Johnson (l) with Lincoln High teacher Natalie Allen.

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By Natalie Allen
Teacher, Lincoln High School

Dakota Johnson started at Lincoln in March 2011 as a junior. He walked in displaying a very calm demeanor: He was polite, soft spoken — an extremely

nice young man. Anyone meeting him would never have guessed that he’d lived through hell. He had just moved to town from another state, was basically living on his own and he was way behind on school credits.

When Dakota came to Lincoln he had one goal in mind: to get his GED. He never said a word about his past.

One of the staff, Shelly Phipps, who supervises the in-school suspension program, worked closely with Dakota. She mentioned to him that we were planning a summer-school session. She suggested that he take classes to work toward his high school diploma, which is much more valuable than a GED to employers and colleges. Dakota jumped at the chance — he wanted to be the first in his family to graduate from high school.

He went to summer school, took extra classes during this last school year, and worked at a job in catering, earning high school credit while doing so. He passed all of his classes with high grades, earning no less than a “B” in of any of them.

During his senior presentation, he finally revealed how he’d ended up at Lincoln. “When I was about eight, I asked my father why he would rather do drugs than hang out with his kids,” he began. ” ‘I would love to have more drugs than you kids’, he told us. He also told me that I was a ‘condom’ baby and not supposed to happen.”

Dakota told how he became a “human punching bag” for his father, who was addicted to methamphetamine. Dakota regularly went to school with bruises and cuts. His father stole from him and his siblings. He became Dakota’s focus of hatred and fear. Dakota was abandoned by his mother when he was 10 years old. She left his father for self-preservation, but was unable to care for Dakota and his siblings, so Dakota stayed with his father until he was 14.

When Dakota turned 14 he decided that high school was not a good place, “I was picked on and treated like crap by my teachers and staff,” he said. He found solace in working and snowboarding. School was “not important” and he was on his own. He worked, supported himself and stayed away from his father. Finally, at 17, he decided to move to another state to get away from the only life he knew. Fortunately he found Lincoln High School.

Our school is unique in that each staff member knows each student, and a special bond is formed between staff and students. It is uncanny how our staff is able to share all of the students but still develop a stronger relationship with a few. No students are left out of the circle, there is always a staff member who is that “go-to adult” whom our students need in their lives. Dakota and I shared that bond.

Dakota earned 12 credits his senior year….unheard of!  He was able to graduate with his class in June.  I was honored to introduce him at graduation. He is starting at Walla Walla Community College in the fall. Dakota has reunited with his mother and has a very strong relationship with her. He is a success, overcoming many obstacles.  We are very proud!

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