Belly Dancing and Graduation

When Chantel Obrist transferred to the Community Alternative Learning Center last year, she was a sophomore, but earlier this month she walked with the graduating seniors of 2011 from the Forest Grove School District.

The 16-year-old transferred to CALC, Forest Grove's alternative high school, in November 2010 and worked hard to finish all her required credits to graduate this spring.

Without the help of CALC, Obrist said she would not have been able to graduate early because limitations in the academic schedule would have left her short of required classes. 'My counselor told me I couldn't graduate early,' she said.

'Troubled teen' stigma

She said she felt that she might have had a 'troubled teen' stigma attached to her because of how often she skipped school and used drugs while at Forest Grove High.

But transferring to CALC allowed her to turn a new leaf. Obrist said she used to have severe panic attacks at FGHS from the sheer size of the campus and large groups of people. She'd move a desk to the hallway to work away from other students to help ease her anxiety. Transitioning to CALC's smaller class sizes and greater access to teachers helped Obrist succeed.

'I didn't skip as much anymore,' she said. According to Obrist, her mom was hesitant about transferring to CALC but eventually saw that the school was a good fit.

For Obrist, the best part of the alternative school was the flexibility. Obrist said she really enjoyed that she could adjust the pace of her classes based on how quickly she grasped the concepts.

At CALC, Obrist was able to complete her required credits and explore her personal interests. All students are required to complete a senior project before graduating. Obrist's desire to expand her interest in belly dancing met with some resistance from some of the teachers at CALC. 'They thought it was stripping,' she said.

In the end, they relented. Obrist choreographed and performed a traditional belly dance at the senior showcase on March 30 and gave a speech about the history of belly dancing to complete her senior project.

Enrolling at PCC

She said she wants to continue taking belly dancing classes two times a week after she graduates. She plans to enroll at Portland Community College to finish her prerequisites so that she can enter the nursing program at Linfield College.

Obrist said Bruce Shields, a teacher at CALC, has helped her prepare for college, including helping her fill out her financial aid forms. 'Bruce talks to me a lot about it,' she said, asking, 'What are we doing today to go to college?'

Overall, Obrist said being a student at CALC was a positive experience and helped her succeed in ways she might not have at Forest Grove High School.

'It gives you independence,' she said.

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