In a different school with different teachers, Tianna Denning believes she would be nothing more than a small part of an unsettling statistic, one name lost in a list of hundreds of others that drop out of schools in Manitoba each year.
Denning admits to being on the brink last year, but she officially finished a comeback year when she graduated with 13 of her classmates from the Met School at Garden City Collegiate in a small ceremony on June 19.
"Last year I would have just given up. I was ready," said Denning.
By all accounts, Grade 12 was Denning’s redemption year, responding to her teacher’s ultimatum to step up or step out.
While Denning enrolled in Met School in Grade 9 because of its small class sizes, customized project work and work placement program, she admits to falling in with a bad crowd.
"I was partying constantly, not going to class," said Denning.
"If I did come to class, I wasn’t in the right state of mind to be there. It got to a point where I was never coming to school at all."
Denning had a loose leash and it wasn’t until Grade 11 when teacher Nancy Janelle told her she would be kicked out of school unless she turned her performance around.
And so she did, completing her work, and working internships at the city’s animal services department, Seven Oaks Hospital, various daycares and at Canstar Community News.
"I followed everything, did all the work," Denning said.
"Nancy, she cared for me a lot and was on my back in coming back to school and succeeding and trying to push me. She knew I could do more than I was doing."
Janelle has been with this year’s graduating class since they stepped into the school in Grade 9.
As with the rest of her students, Janelle says she saw Denning’s smarts and potential since the first day. But, she also saw her fall in with that wrong crowd.
As a teacher responsible for managing one class of 15 students per day, Janelle says she was able to play a larger role in changing Denning’s course than she would have if she had five different classes with up to 120 different students each day.
"In a regular setting, if she was just a number in a crowd, one of 1,200 students like there are at Garden City, she would have easily just fallen off the radar," said Janelle.
"You’re their person. You get to know them and their families in a way most teachers don’t get to."
Denning will be heading to Red River College to study creative communications. She hopes to be a globe-trotting journalist one day.
Other students in the graduating class are off to study pharmacy, film, addictions counselling, early childhood education, professional baking and information technology.
That’s a reflection on the emphasis the Met School places on getting students in as many different workplaces as possible, Janelle said.
"A lot of these students have gone through curving paths to get to this point," she said.
"They’re really a number of steps ahead of most adults because they’ve had so many chances to explore so many industries over the last four years.
"Looking back at each one . . . I’m so proud," Janelle said.