West Auburn High School helped once troubled students find their way | Class of '14

Iakeem Hogan and Amanda Carlson left behind their troubles and found a new home to grow in at West Auburn High School.  - Robert Whale, Auburn Reporter
Iakeem Hogan and Amanda Carlson left behind their troubles and found a new home to grow in at West Auburn High School.
— image credit: Robert Whale, Auburn Reporter

In his freshman year at Auburn Mountainview High School, Iakeem Hogan was, he concedes, "a troublemaker."

Hung out with the wrong crowd. Got into scrapes. Didn't care about his grades. Society's rules. What anybody else thought.

In plain terms, a young man without purpose, plans or hope, drifting slowly, inexorably toward society's margins and failure.

Or, so it seemed.

"I made a lot of bad decisions," Hogan said. "But after messing up. I didn't want to be the one known as the guy who couldn't get a high school diploma. I think it was actually about getting old enough and figuring out that I had to get moving."

Hogan did get moving — across town to West Auburn High School.

And everything changed.

Today Hogan, a shy young man, despite his powerful 6-foot-3, 280-pound build, spills over with plans for a future he once, deep down, suspected he wouldn't have.

"After West Auburn, I'll be going to college and getting a criminal justice degree so I can become a DEA agent. I think criminal justice and business is what I'll be taking a role in. I chose criminal justice because my family's history has a lot of criminal background. I wanted to be the one to change that for my family, so that's what I'm going to do."

None of that was clear, however, when he made the cross-town move.

"Man, I heard the stories, that West Auburn was all bad students, and that I really wouldn't get along with anybody," Hogan said. "But after a couple months, I felt that this was a good decision that I had made. The majority of people are here for the same reason; they're trying to change themselves.

"We all come together as one here. We might have different issues and different beliefs at one moment, but by the end of the week, we're all together as one," Hogan added.

Being at a smaller school, Hogan continued, helps forge much stronger connections with other people, students and teachers alike.

"I really made a good connection with the teachers. They're not just here for a paycheck, they are here to help you make a change in your life also," he said. "I had teachers who told me to get a job and helped me get my first one. I had teachers who wrote recommendation letters and helped me with my resume. I got a job right there at the interview.

"I believe that if I hadn't come here, I would be somewhere I wouldn't want to be," Hogan said. "One of my good friends was shot and killed in Seattle a couple of months ago. We went to Mountainview together, and he dropped out of high school at the time I decided to come to West Auburn. I'm so glad I came here."

Amanda Carlson

Amanda Carlson had a lot in common with her good friend, Hogan.

Hanging out with the wrong crowd in her freshman and sophomore years, staying out late, doing "a lot of stuff" she knew she shouldn't have been doing.

Luckily for her, at the start of her junior year, her own inner voice shouted at her that she'd better change.

"One day, my mom and me came to the conclusion that it would be best for me to go to a smaller school," Carlson said.

So, like Hogan, Carlson transferred to West Auburn High. And just like him, she found herself, thrived in the environment, dreamed dreams.

And began to think about her future.

"I learned that I really love math," Carlson said. "I used to hate it. But when I took an accounting class, I came to the conclusion that I wanted be an accountant or a marketing manager. A couple of years ago I didn't care where I was going. I was just living the life and didn't even know what I wanted, or who I was."

She plans to attend college, although she may take a year off first, work and save money. Certainly she'll ride dirt bikes, just as she has been doing since she was 5 years old.

Carlson's life today is worlds apart from what she had once expected.

She, too, had heard the stories about West Auburn — that it was the place where bad kids went.

"I was kind of happy about that at the time because I used to do some of that stuff," Carlson remembers with a laugh. "But when I got here, after the first week I realized that this school was not at all what everybody had been saying."

Indeed, everybody there welcomed her in as part of the family.

"I loved how we didn't get smashed with homework or overloaded," Carlson said. "It was smaller classrooms, and the teachers were more focused on the students. (Counselor) Colleen Rayburn took me her under wing. After a semester of being in her careers counseling class, she accepted me as being a manager. That's someone who makes up projects and assignments and helps and directs the students and helps them with work. That has really helped me."

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