Two who turned their lives around at Bijou
Bridgett, Lee capitalized on second chance

       An alternative high school may not be for everyone, but District 11's Bijou School worked wonders for Nikki Bridgett and Brandon Lee.
       Each will be graduating this month, with dreams for the future. But not that long ago - four years for Brandon, two years for Nikki - neither had much of a future, they both freely admit.
       The following stories about two students who pulled themselves out of downward spirals, with help from Bijou, a grade 9-12 school at 730 N. Walnut St.
       When she was just a year and a half, Nikki's father deserted the family, leaving her mother to raise her three children by herself. This gnawed at Nikki in more than one way: She saw her mother working two jobs, she wondered if she herself was to blame, and she was even rebuffed in efforts to get to know her father.
       By the time she reached high school, Nikki recalls, “I was rebellious. I wasn't going to trust anyone.”
       She didn't commit crimes or do drugs. But she'd get into occasional fights (“I'm shy, but if someone talked back to me, I'd snap”) and had no interest in school. A fight with a girl at Harrison High got her suspended, then in her sophomore year the family moved to the Wasson attendance area.
       Things just got worse. She had no friends and “nothing clicked” with her teachers, she said. “I missed classes. I didn't do my homework. When I was home, I'd sit in the darkest part of the house. I was so down and out, I didn't think I'd make it. My plan was to get kicked out and get a job to help my mom.”
       Part of her plan worked. She was assigned lunch detention, then skipped that. Sure enough, this got her expelled. But she never implemented the rest of her plan. That's because Mom found out. A big argument followed. Eventually, they worked out a kind of compromise: Nikki could not drop out of school, but she wouldn't have to go back to Wasson. A cousin of hers had attended Bijou. Her mother wasn't real keen on that idea, believing that an alternative school was only for bad kids, but didn't stand in her daughter's way. Nikki enrolled there two years ago.
       According to Nikki, that was when her life started to turn around. “I always thought school wasn't for me, but when I came to Bijou, the skies opened up and the clouds drifted away,” she said.
       She liked the individual attention and getting to follow her own schedule. The teachers “don't pressure you or make it boring,” she said.
       She's also made a lot of friends. “It's so diverse here,” she said. “Everyone talks to everyone.” She thinks it's because most of the Bijou students have had to overcome certain obstacles. It's hard to feel sorry for yourself when someone else might have gone through something worse, she observed.
       Along the way, she developed an interest in the future. Now 18, she is about to get married (though with no immediate plans for children), and to go to college with a criminal justice major. She's also interested in possibly pursuing a counseling career (having enjoyed peer counseling at Bijou) or even modeling. “I have a lot of dreams,” she said.

       “Regular public schools just weren't for me,” Brandon said. As a freshman at Palmer and later Coronado high schools, he rebelled against the homework and the rules, got in with the party scene “and never went to class.”
       He can't think of any deep-seated reason for the way he felt then. His parents had divorced when he was in sixth grade, but he doesn't think that warped his attitude so much. He just knows what his perception was: that the teachers “were in it for the paychecks,” and once a student like him fell behind they didn't want to take the effort to help him catch up.
       A Coronado counselor recommended that he apply to Bijou School. Brandon did so, and hasn't regretted it for a second. “I liked it a lot,” he said. “There were smaller class sizes and more one-on-one with teachers. I wake up in the morning and want to go to school.”
       A big difference at Bijou is that students have their own individualized paths to graduation. Certain points must be earned to get through the courses (which are in line with the District 11 curriculum). This structure “kind of taught me responsibility,” Brandon said. He especially credits his teachers for “helping me and pushing me.” Nowadays, he added, “I stay on myself to do my work. I've grown up a lot since I came here.”
       Once a rebel, Brandon has served as a peer counselor (helping fellow students with issues) and a student council member at Bijou. “I never thought in my life I would join a student council,” he chuckled.
       The 20-year-old Westside resident has been on his own for nearly a year, he said. In addition to attending Bijou, he's holding down a full-time job and taking college classes at Pikes Peak Community College. He's also getting organized for the future. In June, he'll be going to Canada to get certified as a car stereo installer. He's learned a lot about that craft informally over the years, but this will give him a leg up on finding a good-paying job when he starts college in Denver. He wants to study architecture, but if that doesn't pan out he can see himself starting his own chain of stereo-installation shops. “I want to retire when I'm 30,” he grinned.

Westside Pioneer article