Briana Leppanen


For me, school has been mostly enjoyable. I was the quiet student who took the hand that she was dealt without complaining. But this all changed when a new teacher in the school treated the entire class disrespectfully. This happened my junior year in algebra. After that class, my fondness for school began to disintegrate.
This teacher would completely lose it over little things, such as when a student coughed or asked for a pencil. She would slam down her Expo pen on the overhead and yell: “I can’t do this anymore!” Or, “If anyone asks me for help, they can forget about it!” And that happened more than once a week.
She was the first teacher to ever give me a referral. I got a referral for saying how I felt about her out loud. After that first referral, the following day I lost my temper with her and received another referral. I did say some nasty things to her, but I still don’t regret it.
So much had changed from the beginning of the year. On the first day of school, I was Miss Happy-go-lucky, and now I was suspended. And once you get suspended, the school administration never looks at you the same.
By senior year, I began to detest school with every nerve cell. I would ditch classes on a regular basis. My grades were dropping, and they were dropping fast. I begged my Mom to enroll me in an independent study program, thanks to the positive reviews from my friends. But she didn’t like the idea until she realized that graduating was important to me. And there was no way I would do that at the rate I was going.
We had an interview for Nova Independent Study in Novato, but they were hesitant to let me in because of my attendance. Of all things, it was my attendance. It’s funny how a school, where you only have to go once a week, was worried about attendance, but that was enough to deny my acceptance.
Finally, we had an interview with Valley Oaks Independent Study. I wasn’t sure if they were going to let me in, either, because of my attendance. But they did and I was thrilled.
I have been attending Valley Oaks since November and enjoying it immensely. You have more one-on-one with the teachers, so you can get a better understanding of the material. The work is no longer too much of a challenge because I don’t have to force myself to go somewhere for six hours straight. That’s the beauty of independent study school. I get to do it on my own, with no teachers nagging at me about how I’m not doing it their way.
Graduation? I’m going to do it by May just like everybody else. It’s an amazing feeling to know that by that time I will be as free as the wind blows. The thought of my graduation day, and being able to decide what to do with my own life, gives me chills of excitement down my spine.
After going through the downs of the past year, I learned that life is about how much you put into it. And I have put in more effort than I ever thought possible. And I’ll have a diploma to show for it.