Newcastle teen takes control of spiraling life
Newcastle teen Terrence Neese should have worn a cap and gown on June 13, 2013.
He was supposed to embrace his parents as he emerged from the Kent ShoWare Center with a Hazen High School diploma.
Terrence was there to watch his classmates that day, but with insufficient credits to graduate, he was sitting in the stands, not on the floor.
“These are the kids I grew up with,” he said. “How did I get to a point where they are all going on in their lives without me? How did that happen?”
It happened because he was more concerned with partying than schoolwork and more likely to sleep through the day than go to class, he said.
Terrence went to the graduation ceremony to support his friends, but he left the arena with a much-needed wakeup call.
“When he went to that graduation it was very, very hard on him,” Terrence’s mom Tammy said. “I don’t think he was prepared for how far he had gone off track until he was sitting there in that auditorium.”
Terrence looks upon that June day as the turning point, when he said enough is enough, and attempted to take back his life.
Less than a year later, the previously unmotivated teen has now dined with four-star generals and hopes to attend the U.S. Military Academy, thanks to a local program that just wouldn’t let him fail.
Washington Youth Academy
Terrence’s academic challenges began during middle school, Tammy said, making for an overall frustrating school experience.
He did OK during his freshman year at Hazen. He was passing his classes, but as time went on, she and her husband could tell he was burnt out and heading toward a future as a high-school dropout.
An opportunity arose for Terrence to visit India for half of a school year, and the family saw it is a chance for him to regroup.
“It kind of had the opposite result,” Tammy said. “He did fabulous in India, experienced successes right and left, but when he came back, he was now really far behind in school.”
Terrence knew he would have to make up credits when he returned, but he wasn’t ready for the true impact of being so behind his peers.
The frustration of school led to drug and alcohol experimentation, he said. Terrence would often skip class and hang out with a rough crowd.
“Once you distance yourself from people who want success, you’re left with people who are going to bring you down, and that’s what happened with me,” he said.
On the verge of dropping out of school, Terrence enrolled at the Renton School District’s new Secondary Learning Center, which offers a more flexible study program to accommodate students’ challenges.
It was there that he met instructor Erin Bristow, who saw something in him that he had yet to see in himself.
“He was a young man without a center or grounding. He showed sparks of greatness, and then would fade off into peer pressure, fun and games,” Bristow said. “He was one of those students you can imagine doing great things, if only he could find his way.”
After Terrence expressed an interest in future military service, it was Bristow that suggested the Washington Youth Academy to him. The six-month intense program imbeds at-risk teens in a military boot-camp atmosphere.
The recruits take classes, earn high-school credits and get the opportunity to “get back on track,” while military leaders coach them in discipline, life skills and personal responsibility.
It’s six months away from friends, family and society’s vices. The teens must leave their electronics at home and only commit to the no-cost program based in Bremerton if it is truly what they want.
“They want you to want to be there, because without you wanting to be there, you’re not going to succeed,” Terrence said.