Racine Alternative Education student Devonte Parks dreams of owning his own landscaping business, and he’s planning on studying civil engineering at Gateway Technical College to help get him there.
“I want to work in construction because I like working with my hands,” he said. “I don’t want to be the designer – I’ll let someone else do that – and I”ll be the person who puts everything where they say it should go.”
Parks, 19, is a gregarious young man with a big smile and a way of talking with his hands that punctuates his sentences, and he knows he could have a bumpy road ahead of him. He will graduate from high school this spring after he completes a final three credits in geometry, English and an elective.
He is also a convicted felon who recognizes the poor choices he made could negatively impact him for years to come.
“I made mistakes, no doubt, but I wish more people could see that I am more than that, and I want to move past all that,” Parks added, his hands making sweeping motions to the side. “I hope more people will give me a chance to prove myself.”
He said he has been working the last few months through a local employment agency in various factory jobs, but he’d like to find something a little more permanent.
When he was released from custody last fall, Parks said he was referred to RAE by his godmother so he could complete his high school education with fewer distractions. Parks said he suffers from anxiety in large groups so attending class at RAE is really working for him.
“I made a plan with my counselor so I can graduate in June but go at my own pace,” he explained. “I can stretch or I can go faster, and I like having a better connection with teachers. It’s much calmer at RAE.”
One of the adults with whom Parks has connected is math teacher Adam Beyer.
“Mr. Beyer has helped break down math for me so I understand it better,” Parks said.
Beyer points to RAE’s small class sizes as a huge benefit for students but also for teachers.
“We get to not just know our students but to connect with them and learn about their lives outside of school,” he said.
The connection for Parks means a little more perhaps that it might to another student. He said outside of school, his godmother is the only positive adult he has in his life, and while he’s grateful for her support, what he’d really like to see is more adults in the community stepping forward to serve as mentors for students like himself.
“I need someone to show me what I need to do, to lead me through it,” he stated. “If I had someone who was already doing what I want to do … that would be good.”
The first time Beyer learned of Parks’ interest in landscaping was during our recent visit, and he immediately offered to connect Parks with a friend who owns his own tree-trimming business. He also sees the need for mentors for students like Parks and would like to see the alternative education program expanded but only if additional teachers are hired to keep classes small.
“Clearly there is a need for RAE in our community, and we need it to be a bigger program, but that means hiring more teachers because one of the main reasons we succeed here is our classes are small,” he said. “But we also need more adults to volunteer here, to come in and talk to students about careers and then to help them get there.”