39 now see opportunity on horizon

Hannah Williams adjusts the tassel on her mortarboard before commencement ceremonies Tuesday night in Athens.

Hannah Williams adjusts the tassel on her mortarboard before commencement ceremonies Tuesday night in Athens.

Hannah Williams and Whitney Holman were once at-risk of dropping out of high school. Now, they are heading to college and beginning a lifetime of believing they can achieve what they are willing to work for.

Through their determination — and the foresight of Limestone County school officials who brought the Ombudsman Educational Services program here three years ago — Williams, Holman and 37 other at-risk classmates earned their high school diplomas here Tuesday night.

The graduates were recognized for their academic achievements and community service efforts during commencement at the Athens State University ballroom. Director Heather Brown and graduates Charnetta Turner, Demario Davis, Joseph Hardy and Alan Shackelford spoke at the event along with Limestone County Interim Superintendent Zebbra Green.

Williams was a junior who should have been a senior when she first entered the program in December 2011.

“My dream was to be able to graduate, and walk with my own class,” she said. “I had a lot of work to complete in a short amount of time.”

Each day at 7 a.m., she came to the Ombudsman center off U.S. 72 East in Athens and worked diligently until 11 a.m.

“The hardest thing for me was not being able to talk,” Williams said. “I love to talk to anyone or anything, but here, I had too much work to do. I soon started to see faces I recognized from my home school. When I saw them, I started to relax, and ended up finishing out my junior year by the end of January. I felt so accomplished, and had a new confidence, that I would be able to graduate.”

February brought eight new classes, which Williams would have to complete by May if she intended to graduate.

“My new-found confidence was shaken,” she said. “I thought I was never going to be capable to finish eight classes in four months. But with the teachers confidence, trust, and motivation I promised myself I would try the best I could.”

By the close of March, she had three classes behind her. By working during spring break as well as at home, she finished two more.

“I was still a little skeptical about being able to finish but, with the teachers help, I finished classes, one by one,” she said. “On May 17, I finished all the necessary work.”

Williams believes the teachers at Ombudsman were the key to her success.

“They are the main reason I’ve been able to accomplish my dreams of graduating,” she said. “Without the constant nagging, and the question “Do you want to graduate?” from Mrs. (Heather) Brown, there is no way I would’ve finished. This program changed my life around completely, and I’m excited to start college and the rest of my life, in the hopes of making my Ombudsman family proud.”

How it began

Limestone County Schools partnered with Ombudsman in August 2009 to provide opportunities for at-risk students from the district’s six high schools. The flexibility of the program accommodates young mothers, working students and others who may have difficulty in the typical high school setting.
Students in the Class of 2012 not only completed their high school coursework at the center they participated in charity campaigns, including Toys for Tots, holiday greeting cards for U.S. troops serving overseas, two local blood drives, and a canned-food drive for the Athens-Limestone Emergency Food Bank & Shelter.

Whitney Holman, right, with fellow graduate Kristina Johnson before the Ombudsman Class of 2012 graduated.

Whitney Holman, right, with fellow graduate Kristina Johnson before the Ombudsman Class of 2012 graduated.

Another success

Like Williams, Whitney Holman also feared she would never graduate. Now she is headed to college.

“I feel that coming to this school was one of the best things that I could’ve ever done because this school really changed the way I thought about my education and really has given me a whole new outlook on life,” Holman said. “I love this school and, mostly, the teachers, because they don’t make you feel less about yourself. They help you and work with you until you get it. One of the other things I also like about this school is that you don’t stay here all day. You do your work and go home. I’m really going to miss this school a whole lot because as I have been here I have gotten attached to the people, but I know I must leave and go to college and become successful in life.”