Two from Bijou
Pearson, Mathis had own reasons for choosing to graduate from Westside alternative high school

       The Bijou School, an alternative high school on the Westside, has become known as a sanctuary for students who have trouble coping with standard high schools and/or life in general.

Caitlin Pearson

Jordan Mathis
Westside Pioneer photo

       That's exemplified by 2 of Bijou's 45-graduate Class of 2010. Caitlin Pearson overcame drugs and a burglary conviction, while Jordan Mathis regained his love of learning (engineering in particular).
       At age 21, under District 11 rules, Pearson couldn't have gone another birthday before being too old to graduate from high school without having to go back for a GED. “She almost threw in the towel,” said Kathryn Presnal, one of her teachers, “but she's college-ready now. It's an amazing success story.”
       Pearson's story at Bijou started in the 2003-04 school year when she transferred there as a sophomore, after growing up on the Westside and attending its public schools. But she was set back by so many personal issues - a reading disability (which she still struggles with), family disruptions (her mother moved out when she was 15) and getting in with the wrong crowd - that even Bijou became too burdensome. Scheduled to graduate in 2007, she dropped out that spring. She returned the next fall, but a low self-confidence kept her from pulling her ambitions together until this year.
       Part of her troubles overall, she admitted, resulted from “bad decisions,” which included use of methamphetamines and riding along with people who burglarized a house. Eventually arrested and convicted, she managed to get a deferred sentence (but has to pay some restitution).
       Nowadays, Pearson's life has flipped 180 degrees - almost literally. She is considering pursuing a college degree in criminal justice, possibly becoming a probation officer and helping people who've gotten in trouble the way she did.
       For her turnaround, she credits the help of family, friends and teachers, who “had faith in me even when I didn't.”
       She's received a boost from District 11's College Options Program, which allows college credit to be given for certain high school classes.
       “I'm proud of where I came from,” Pearson summarized. “You can tell all the Westside I finally made it.”
       After attending regular public schools through most of his junior year at Mitchell High, Jordan Mathis was fed up. “It was a combination of a lot of things,” he said, describing students who were “mean and aggressive” and some teachers (though not all) “who didn't care about the students.” What that meant for him was that if he was in a class of 30 and didn't understand the material, he was “out of luck.”
       Transferring to Bijou a year and two months ago worked out for him. He liked the one-on-one opportunities with teachers, which helped him understand the material. But ultimately getting the work done is up to the student. “You have to be self-motivated,” Mathis said.
       Bijou isn't staffed or equipped to teach engineering, but District 11 allows students in such cases to take classes at schools that do. With that sort of arrangement, Coronado High worked out well for him, including recent college-credit classes in chemistry and pre-calculus.

A Bijou School tradition, started by outgoing Principal Wayne Hutchison, is the barbecue "luau," to which neighbors, friends and alumni are invited. The luau May 21 was the first such outdoor event since Bijou moved to its new location at the former Whittier School for the 2009-10 school year.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Mathis is looking forward eagerly now to college (initially at Pikes Peak Community College), where he plans to focus on mechanical engineering. To help cover costs, he has a job (at Colorado Springs Utilities), which Bijou staff helped him find.
       “I think I was depressed,” he said of how he felt before coming to Bijou. “But I absolutely love it here.”

Westside Pioneer article