Diplomas in hand, the 12 members of the Class of 2023 at Paradise School in Abbottstown moved the tassels on their graduation caps from right to left, and the crowd of faculty, family members and friends behind them erupted into boisterous cheers, energetic shouts and thunderous applause.
And rightly so. Like all graduates, these students have much to celebrate for their achievements, given the challenges and obstacles they’ve overcome.
“I absolutely would not be here today without the help of my teachers here,” Iva Kuhn emphatically called out over the jubilant sounds of fellow graduates and families rejoicing after the May 31 commencement ceremony. “I put my future in their hands and they guided me along the right path when I was at a fork in the road,” she told The Catholic Witness.
Paradise School provides intensive academic and social-emotional support for students navigating social, emotional and/or behavioral challenges. Educating and guiding students in grades K-12 from school districts in Adams, Franklin and York counties, the school offers behavioral intervention and emotional support programs to help young people learn and maintain academic and social skills.
The school is staffed by educators from the Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12 and by behavioral support staff from Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Harrisburg. Catholic Charities’ staff provide social-emotional learning opportunities, individual support and activities to help students learn coping strategies to navigate anxiety and frustration.
Paradise School aims to develop students’ academic and behavioral skills to help them return to their home school districts and continue their education.
Iva Kuhn arrived at Paradise in January from a public high school. She was in serious danger of failing her junior year.
“I had 53 incomplete assignments and was at a crossroads, heading toward the wrong path. And I was absolutely terrified when I first came to Paradise,” she said.
“But this school has good teachers here to motivate you, and it was really helpful to have them be there for you, no matter what,” she said. “When I was going through some rough times and giving up on myself, they never gave up on me. They motivated me. I completed online classes and got all my credits so that I was able to graduate a year ahead of schedule.”
Kuhn is planning to go to cosmetology school. And she’s not the only one with plans. Among her classmates are aspiring members of the Armed Forces and future phlebotomists, logistics specialists and auto mechanics.
“I think our students are mostly successful because they fit in and feel they are part of something here,” said Dustin Langeheine, program director. “We build community here and focus on restorative practices and accountability. The students can come in here and feel safe and welcomed. Where they might feel different in a public school setting with 1,000 kids, they are one of 100 here; everybody knows them, so they feel like they’re part of a community, and that provides them a different level of success.”
That success was joyfully celebrated on graduation day. Principal Lawrence Ott called the graduates forward, one by one. As they ascended the stage for their diploma, he read a biography for each student, speaking about their qualities, achievements, interests and future plans, encouraging the crowd of supporters into animated cheers for the grads. The day belonged to the Class of 2023.
“One of my favorite things about this school is how, even though all the students have their own problems, we all come together as a community and the teachers treat us well,” Iva said, as she rounded up classmates and teachers for photos. “Honestly, being sent here is probably one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me, because I would not have graduated like I am today.”
Learn more about Paradise School at http://www.cchbg.org/get-help/youth-services/paradise-school/.
(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness