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Second Start graduates seven students

Jesse Mannion spent three years at Concord High School, but she had little desire to attend class because she was bullied and felt disinterested in the classwork. After two years of hard work at Second Start Alternative High School, she’ll finish with both a certificate from the program and a diploma from Concord High.

“Before I came here, I couldn’t really ever see myself graduating high school and going to college and having a real career,” she said. “But now I do.”

Mannion is one of seven graduates from the program this year, all of whom will also earn Concord High diplomas next week. Second Start is designed for students who struggle in a traditional high school setting and provides a small, structured and personalized environment that allows them to get back on track. About 100 people attended the program’s graduation ceremony yesterday evening.

Students can spend half the day at Second Start taking core classes and some, like Mannion, participate in the school’s Transitional Employment Training program

to gain work experience at the same time. She worked four days a week as a teacher’s assistant at Beaver Meadow School, her first paid job, and in the fall she’ll enroll at NHTI for general studies and human services.

A slideshow showcasing the seven students was played, and program Director Ted Lambrukos reflected on the personalities and contributions of each person by name. Some have kids of their own, and some no longer live at home – but all have earned a diploma that might have been otherwise unattainable.

“I hope you always remember Second Start as your home away from home,” he said. “It’s a place where you’re truly cared about and truly appreciated as unique, and I hope that when you leave here you’ll remember that. . . . You’ve overcome a lot of obstacles in your journey, not just in school but outside of school, too, and that’s to be recognized as well. You’ve always been willing to roll with whatever comes your way.”

Jim Snodgrass, executive director of Second Start, praised the students for their perseverance and urged them to continue to learn throughout life.

“I know it has not been an easy road to get here. During the journey, there have been sacrifices, setbacks, obstacles, ups, downs, side ways and a lot of other ways,” Snodgrass said. “The students here tonight are here because they stuck with it. And now they have arrived. Your hard work has paid off . . . and you should be proud of what you have accomplished.”

Lambrukos said 31 students were enrolled in Second Start this year from Concord, Deerfield, Merrimack Valley, Bow and Pembroke schools. The personal interactions with staff members and the relationships built have motivated Mannion and her classmates to challenge themselves.

“I come here and work to my fullest ability,” Mannion said.

“Her fullest ability means that she doesn’t like 98s,” said Debbie Brenner, one of her teachers. “She strives to get 100s.”

Mannion said she’s nervous about taking the next step at NHTI, but she has come a long way since beginning at Second Start.

“I’m learning to assert myself more. I used to be too passive,” she said. “I feel very independent now.”

(Ann Marie Jakubowski can be reached at 369-3302 or ajakubowski@cmonitor.com.)

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