Turning the page on MECLA

MARSHALL – Six high school students – Tira Brady, Brandon Louwagie, Matthew Jenniges, Maurice High, Devin Stolp and Kolby Janiszeski – will forever be known as the last graduating class at Marshall East Campus Learning Alternative (MECLA).

This past year, the Marshall Public School board approved the process of transforming MECLA into a system that aligns with the vocational workforce needs in the region. Along with developing a college and career readiness system of learning, the district has also changed its location and its name. By Feb. 1, the newly-rebranded Marshall Area Technology and Education Center (MA-TEC) will be moving into its leased location at the Marshall Call Center.

“We’ve had different populations coming together but we’ll be serving another part of the community that’s kind of had to leave town to go get what they needed to get started,” assistant principal Michelle Noriega said. “Hopefully, our kids will start already on a career path, so instead of just graduating with a diploma, they can be heading off to whichever school to finish their degree. That’s the exciting part there.”

Much like MECLA, the students at the graduation ceremony on Friday have both a past and a future. MA-TEC will be a new and improved MECLA, just like the graduating seniors will likely go out and be even better people because of the diploma, tools and experiences they’ve acquired.

“We’ve had great kids, but some of them may have a disadvantage because they made bad choices,” Noriega said. “Most of us can make a bad choice, but we have family support in place so that we can survive whatever bad choice we make. Sometimes these kids, even if they know the right choice to make, they don’t make it, so they end up behind. This is just a great way for them to get a fresh start and get on the road to success.”

During the graduation ceremony, Noriega took time to highlight each graduate and reveal their advice to other students. High suggested students “stay in school and stick with it because it’s worth it,” she said, while Jenniges advised people to “do their own thing and leave their troubles behind them.” Stolp hoped that people would “not lose sight of their goals,” Noriega said.

Having been a student at MECLA for the past four years, Louwagie has a lot of good things to say about the school and his experience there. His advice was to not let other people judge you, because you are the one making your own choices.

“We do have kids who don’t make good choices come here, but hopefully when they come here, they learn from those choices and go on a better path,” Louwagie said. “I’ve gotten to know the teachers here pretty well and they all have a big heart for every student who comes here.”

Louwagie’s fellow classmates jokingly said they elected him to give the graduation speech and he agreed. After the classmates told Louwagie they were kidding, he decided to give a speech anyway.

“I was a little nervous, but I’m glad I did it,” he said. “Every school has its ups and downs, but this school is pretty good. Like I said in my speech earlier, everyone judges us, but it’s not a bad school. I see us more as a family here than as friends. I’ve been here four years and that’s what I’ve experienced.”

Louwagie plans to work this summer and then attend Southeast Technical Institute in Sioux Falls, S.D., for diesel technology.

“I’m feeling pretty happy (today) and excited about the future,” Louwagie said.

Tira Brady, who plans to attend college to get a licensed practical nurse and registered nurse degree, had mixed feelings at the graduation ceremony.

“It’s very sad to have it end, but I’ll keep in touch,” she said. “It’s pretty emotional. I’m happy. My life is just beginning and I’m excited.”