From ‘I didn’t want to be here’ to applying for college: A Columbia Options success story

Above: Izaiha Maxson, center, who made the most of his education at Columbia Options High School and soon graduates, is flanked by Options teacher Melissa Adams, who meant a lot to Izaiha, on the left and COHS Principal Lisa Klink, on the right.

Story and photos
By John Hummer

Izaiha Maxson started at Columbia Options High School as a junior. It was the best thing that could have happened to him – his experience at the school has been life-changing.

He has gone from a near drop-out to graduating from high school and will soon begin his next phase of education at Jackson College. Izaiha now has career goals and has been looked up to by his fellow students at Options as a role model.

COHS Principal Lisa Klink has known Izaiha and his family for around 15 years. Both his mother and aunt attended the school as well.

“Somebody reached out to us and said he was behind at [Columbia Central High School] and needed a change,” said Klink. Izaiha said he literally missed school from fifth through 10th grades. He went to Tecumseh schools throughout most of that period.

Options English teacher Melissa Adams met Izaiha when he enrolled in summer school prior to his junior year. “Izaiha was a very nice young man, but also had a wee bit of a ‘you can’t make me’ attitude,” she said. To which she replied, “You’re right, but I can convince you that you want to.”

Adams laid it on the line to Izaiha and told him he wouldn’t graduate unless something changed. “You could almost see light bulbs popping up slowly as his future kind of opened up,” she said. “In our writings, we started kind of exploring, ‘what do you plan on doing in your life?’”

“That was scary as hell, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life,” Izaiha said. “I had zero idea. Honestly, I thought I was going to be flipping burgers for the rest of my life – and that scared me.” Then the realization hit. “I won’t live like that.”

“I really didn’t want to be here,” stated Izaiha before entering his first year at COHS. “I was absolutely terrified. I thought once I ended up here my life just went down the drain and I should just drop out.”

Izaiha said his first couple weeks at Options he just wanted to sleep in school “and just kind of do that routine I was used to,” he said. “Melissa got on my case and yelled at me one day and said, ‘You’re not going to sleep in my class – you’re not wasting time here.’ It just clicked to me that I shouldn’t be wasting my time – I should take advantage of what I got. It’s basically been [downhill] ever since then.”

Adams used the metaphor of a bank account with him near the end of his junior year when Izaiha still wasn’t’ sure if he wanted to finish high school. “You put in the work now so you can make more later,” she explained. “We put the numbers on the board – I think that was the last piece of that puzzle.” That convinced Izaiha to come back for his senior year, which has been very successful.

Though Options has a no-homework policy, there are strict rules while students are in school. “We expect students to stay actively engaged in class the whole time,” Klink explained, noting they are on two-hour block schedules. “Use your time in class and get your work done here.”

Adams said she has the same expectations and standards for her students as students at Columbia Central. “I just have to teach them in a different way,” she explained. “We have to break it down for each individual student that’s here. There’s no ‘one size fits all.’ When students come here, they’re learning the same thing. They’re still taking the state exams. But they’re dealing with all these other things. We have to find a way to make it make sense.”

Klink noted that once students learn the system, they start feeling successful, and that’s what happened with Izaiha. He quickly picked up the system at Options and, before long, was actually a role model for younger students. “Izaiha learned to play school very well – he developed some excellent study habits,” Klink shared. “You could just see the confidence building in him. He became more open and not afraid to ask questions and ask for help. Other students began looking up to him.” She noted that he also tries to persuade students to make better choices.

Izaiha was the student representative speaker at the Columbia School District’s board meeting on April 8. He shared his success as a Columbia Options student with the board and all those in attendance at the meeting.

“Prior to going to Options, I did not succeed in school at all,” he said. “That’s not [Columbia Central High School’s] fault – I wasn’t really an attentive person – I didn’t care about school and wasn’t on a good path. I had zero drive.”

He was told by counselors at CCHS that he then had to go to Options High School because he was so far behind. “That scared me really bad because there is such a bad stigma around Options,” he said. “I moved [to COHS] and expected to see kids on drugs, kids fighting.”

That wasn’t what Izaiha found at all at COHS. “I came here and felt support that I hadn’t really felt from teachers prior,” he said. “And now, I’m basically a straight-A student, about to go to college, and I have a goal – that’s something I never really had in life.

“I really owe it to my teachers that I found a path for myself – I don’t think I would have found it without the help of Melissa (Adams), Steve (Beck), Sara (Boone), and Mr. Woodard,” Izaiha continued. “I would like to thank them personally.”

Izaiha stated that he would not have finished high school had he not gone to Columbia Options. “God knows where I would have ended up,” he stated. “That’s a scary thought – not having a path or not knowing what you’re going to do. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Without [Options], I would have been a failure. I’d be working at McDonald’s asking you all if you wanted fries.”

He continued with his heartfelt words about COHS. “Here, it’s a family. I didn’t know how to talk to anyone about college. No one in my family has ever gone.”

Having built a great student-teacher relationship with Adams, Izaiha sat down with her and together they made a plan for him to start at Jackson College. Izaiha has applied for a scholarship through the Michigan Alternative Education Organization.

“Hopefully, I’ll follow my path to journalism and become a writer,” he said. “I want to do something good for myself – better my family name.

“I would have never had that opportunity if it wasn’t for Options,” Izaiha continued. “You don’t have the option not to care here. They’re so strict about you passing. They don’t care if you want to be an astronaut or a lawyer. They just care about you succeeding on your own personal path.”

Adams saw Izaiha’s potential to be a good writer when they were journaling in class. “I’d ask for a paragraph and he’d write a page-and-a-half,” she said. “That’s when I started asking him, ‘Have you thought about making writing a career?’ Adams teaches a creative writing class at Options that Izaiha really enjoys.

Klink showed him articles she has written for trade publications. “There’s still definitely a need for it,” she noted about a writing career. “Everybody has a story to tell.” Izaiha said he likes hearing stories from people.

Klink noted that Izaiha is a good verbal communicator as well and asks good questions. Izaiha also made it clear he is not a judgmental person. “You could have a billion dollars; you could have zero dollars; a big home or no home. I’m still going to look at you as a human being. I’ve met rich people and I’ve met poor people – they’re just still people to me.”

Izaiha will now take his successful high school experience at Columbia Options on into his college days and beyond.

“I would never change it,” he shared of his COHS career. “If I could have gone back and went here originally in the beginning, I would have probably graduated early. I’m just beyond thankful for the program here.”