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This dropout says he’s determined to be something

By Sarah Nagem
snagem@salisburypost.com
Jamar, a bright young man with a troubled past, remembers the day during an eighth-grade class at North Rowan Middle School when he was reminded that some people didn’t believe in him.
A substitute teacher that day said it loud and clear.
“Her words exactly: ‘Kids like you turn out to be nothing,’ ” says Jamar, whose last name is being withheld to protect his privacy.
While 17-year-old Jamar remembers that incident from a couple years ago, he says he didn’t take it to heart.
“You got to take stuff like that as motivation,” he says.
“Just another person to prove wrong, to me.”
Jamar made it through that school year, although his life had recently been turned upside down. He was living in a foster home and dealing with legal troubles.
At North Rowan High School, Jamar struggled to focus on his classes. He was more interested in writing raps to pursue a music career.
“Stuff like biology ó it wasn’t important to me,” Jamar says. “I didn’t need it.”
But Jamar was smart, says North Rowan High principal Rodney Bass.
Bass recalls the day he observed a ninth-grade world history class Jamar was in.
He was impressed by what Jamar had to say during a discussion about types of government. Jamar made a good argument about why citizens ó not kings ó should have power, Bass says.
But that same school year, Jamar told Bass he had had enough.
“I was like, ‘Dude, you can’t withdraw. You’re that smart,’ ” Bass says.
Jamar dropped out anyway. He was a freshman ó the year many dropouts choose to call it quits, school leaders say.
So was that substitute teacher right about Jamar?
He doesn’t think so.
A rocky beginning
Jamar can’t pinpoint which elementary schools he attended when.
He knows he went to kindergarten at North Rowan Elementary. And he repeated kindergarten because he had had surgery that year to repair a hole in his heart.
After that, Jamar says, he moved around a lot with his mother and attended at least three other local elementary schools.
Despite the instability, Jamar earned good grades and did his homework without his mother forcing him, he says.
Middle school was a different story.
“It was the friends that messed me up,” he says.
Jamar says he started hanging out with negative peers at Knox Middle School. He used to get in trouble for talking during class and showing up late.
“I was more of a follower,” Jamar says. “That’s what it was.”
The major trouble came during the fall of Jamar’s seventh-grade year. That’s when he says he beat up a boy who stole his bicycle.
Police charged Jamar with assault and placed him in the Alexander Juvenile Detention Center in Taylorsville.
After he was released, Jamar says, he repeatedly failed to show up at court.
He was on the run for about two months. He mostly stayed with his cousin and occasionally stopped by his mother’s house for clothes or money.
Jamar didn’t go to school because he knew he would get arrested if he showed up.
But one day, Jamar’s cousin, who also attended Knox, told him it was a special day at school ó students were allowed to leave their uniforms of khaki pants and polo shirts at home and wear regular clothes instead.
Jamar couldn’t resist showing off his threads.
“It was pants day,” Jamar says. “It was tempting. So I put some jeans on and went to school and got locked up.”
He pauses and then says it again: “Got locked up.”
Jamar says an officer approached him during gym class. He knew what was about to happen.
He remained in the juvenile detention facility until March, he says. The judge ordered him to stay in a group home after his release.
But that fell through, Jamar says, and he ended up in a foster home.
A new chapter in Jamar’s life had begun.
Starting over
Since he missed so much of his seventh-grade year at Knox, Jamar had to repeat the school year.
His foster mother lives in Spencer, so Jamar enrolled at North Rowan Middle.
Jamar says he thought the school was more structured than Knox, where he had to walk outside the buildings to get to his next class.
He passed the seventh-grade easily at North, he says.
Jamar says he formed a couple of special relationships with teachers at school. A coach became a father figure for him, he says. Jamar hasn’t talked to his biological father since he was 9.
An eighth-grade math teacher supported him, Jamar says.
“She used to tell me how the world was and why I needed an education,” he says.
At North, Jamar says he shed his follower mentality and became more of a leader. But that sometimes got him in trouble, too.
He got suspended three times in the eighth-grade ó sometimes for what he considers trivial infractions.
Jamar admits he often had an attitude with teachers. He didn’t let them “talk to me any kind of way,” he says.
Even so, he made it through.
But Jamar says he become totally disconnected in high school.
“I wasn’t doing nothing at all,” he says. “I would go to class and just sit there.”
He dropped out because he was no longer interested in school, he says.
Jamar figured he could speed up his education by quitting school and enrolling in a GED program.
Now he attends the Workforce Investment Act Youth Program on Bank Street. The program is part of the Salisbury- Rowan Community Action Agency.
Workforce Investment Act, which is funded by Centralina, encourages kids to stay in school or earn a GED. Students who enroll in the program receive job training skills, guidance and counseling, says Joann Diggs, director of the Salisbury site.
And he gets paid for showing up. Jamar and the dozen or so other students in the GED program can earn up to $65 a week for attending.
Jamar’s only regret was that he enrolled in high school at all. He wishes he had gone to Diggs’ program from the start.
He’s proud of a speech he gave at a recent youth program forum about the importance of education.
Diggs says if Jamar works hard he can earn his GED this winter.
Overcoming adversity
Jamar says young people face many barriers in the pursuit of a high school diploma.
Peer pressure can be strong, he says, and the negativity of others can be contagious.
Jamar thinks that some teachers simply teach the lesson each day but fail to relate to students on a personal level.
Having stronger relationships with teachers and principals would have helped, Jamar says.
He says the schools could have made more of an effort to connect with him.
Diggs says many students like Jamar have gone through her program.
“They get lost in the whole system,” she says.
And often, Diggs says, students don’t have enough guidance at school.
“That’s why most of them are here,” she says. “No one followed through with them, and they gave up.”
But Jamar isn’t looking to place blame.
He considers the biggest barriers he has faced.
“I think the biggest one is yourself,” he says.
Jamar isn’t sure what’s in store for him. He’s considering applying to Rowan-Cabarrus Community College after he earns his GED.
Diggs says Jamar is a good example of what happens too often in our school system.
“I think the public needs to know about students like him,” she says. “They fall through the cracks if a program like this doesn’t help them.”
Jamar is determined to prove wrong the people who didn’t believe in him. He’s determined not to be a kid who turns out to be nothing.

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