Lauren Marcellino: A change of schools changed everything

  • Later this week, PACE Career Academy will say goodbye to its seventh graduating class. GEOFF FORESTER

For the Monitor
Sunday, June 03, 2018

Public high school wasn’t a good fit for me. I was losing a constant internal battle because of my anxiety, and so I considered getting a GED or switching to online school. Instead I attended PACE Career Academy, a charter school in Allenstown. Later this week, I will stand with PACE’S seventh graduating class.

I was aware of a stigma attached to PACE and the reputation it had at my public high school, but when I arrived there last year as a junior I was introduced to an entirely new type of education. The staff was more helpful than I could have expected, and the environment, although a bit intimidating and rough on the exterior, was welcoming.

It was almost as if I wasn’t the new kid. I was never given a title or pushed into a clique. I have not had any experiences that made me feel like I couldn’t get involved if I chose to. We act and are treated as individuals, as opposed to just a part of a group. We all know something about each other. 

PACE helped me gain the confidence to pursue my goals and gave me the support to reach them. I have many happy memories of the school, and it is bittersweet to think that I was part of the community for only a little over a year but that I was given this opportunity in the first place.

This school accepts those who deserve a second chance and gives new high school students a wonderful first (and hopefully only) high school experience. It is truly hard to express my gratitude toward the people who welcomed me and those who, even if we didn’t bond personally, became part of my happiest high school memories. Some of my favorites are simple things, like the pointless fake arguments and short debates, the jokes that I didn’t know how to react to, and the funny remarks made by both students and teachers. 

And I’m proud of how far this school has come.

I am a part of the seventh senior class, and the school will move onward, diving head first into greater opportunities. Next year, PACE will be relocated just a short distance from where it resides now in Allenstown to Riverwood Drive in Pembroke. Director Martin Castle is retiring this summer, but he has met with and supports the man who will be taking his position next year. The students got the chance to meet every candidate for the job and gave written feedback to the teachers who were deciding whom to hire. The students are involved in all the school’s major decisions. Even if we cannot be a part of the final choice, we stay informed and have our opinions heard. 

Looking back at my past self, I’ve noticed how much I’ve grown. The girl who was once too scared to step foot into a classroom can now confidently say, “I have something to give.” Students are not forced out of their comfort zone, but let themselves step out of it. That is how it was for me. I feel accepted and appreciated by students and staff alike. 

Being a part of that community is being a part of something big. It is learning not only academically, but also learning about yourself and your potential. This is more than simply meeting expectations. It is about having expectations for yourself, setting goals, and taking control of your life and education. 

Opinions on PACE differ, but my view comes from what I like to think is an original perspective. I entered this school with little confidence, with the thought playing on repeat that I wasn’t smart enough. I believed that having anxiety meant doing the bare minimum, despite how hard I worked to improve myself. And I was afraid of another less-than-ideal situation being handed to me. As I near graduation, I can honestly say that I feel confident in who I am and in my goals. I can handle my anxiety, and what I have to say deserves to be heard. 

For anyone who knows they need a new start or are unsure of what they want, I recommend a school like this. I recommend PACE. The director and all of his staff will welcome you with open arms and understanding. They will continue to improve upon their situation and take action to make the years to come successful. Moving forward, I hope to see PACE grow and thrive, and I hope that its students will take advantage of the opportunities they are offered. 

After being accepted into the program, I went in with one simple plan: graduate. Pass your classes and get your diploma. Get this over with. Now, on graduation day, I will be standing in front of my class as valedictorian, a title I never allowed myself to believe I could earn.

(Lauren Marcellino lives in Pembroke.)