While many high schoolers seemingly float through their teenage years mostly worried about things like if they made the team, what to wear or who likes who… Some do not have it so carefree and easy. Up against odds that many couldn’t possibly imagine, Sara found acceptance, support and a new hope for her future with ECOT (The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow).

In Sara’s words:

“The issues with my brick-and-mortar high school began about three months after I started my freshman year. I started off strong with all A’s, but by the middle of the first quarter, I had dropped to C’s.

Sara and her Mom - Fall of 2010

Sara and her Mom - Fall of 2010

My mother had become very ill; her lungs collapsed and she was in a coma for eight days. She went on oxygen and had to stop working. We couldn’t make rent, so we lived with my aunt, and then we lived in the car, and then we finally got an apartment. That was traumatizing enough, but then there was the fear that if I left, my mom would be dead by the time I got home.

I started missing school because I was too scared to leave the house. My grades started falling, and nobody really did anything to help me make up the missed work. They didn’t offer me any help or counseling. They failed to understand that I was suffering from severe depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Simply put, they failed me.

My mother came to the school for open house and everybody saw that she was in a wheelchair and on oxygen. I became an outcast – even with teachers. I was treated like I didn’t belong. Students had a lot of mean words to say. It was very much a hostile environment.

I was in therapy at that point to help with the anxiety and depression, and my therapist contacted the school to let them know what was going on. They confirmed that they got the information, but they didn’t really do anything. They held a meeting with me and my mom, and all they said was, ‘You need to do better. Whatever is holding you back, you need to let it go.’

I was trying very hard to get over my anxieties, but it just wasn’t working. Halfway through 10th grade, I had already missed about 90 percent of school. We got a phone call from the principal saying that if I did not show up, officers would come to our door, take me away from my terminally ill mother, and put us both in jail.

At that point, my mom started making some phone calls. She found out about ECOT after speaking with an administrator at the brick-and-mortar facility. I remember thinking that it was a way for me to stay at home with my mom, do my schoolwork, graduate high school, get into college, continue with therapy, and maybe start living like a normal person again. I saw it as my only hope.

It proved to be the best choice we could have ever made. I started ECOT on January 1, 2009, in the middle of my sophomore year, with a GPA of 1.4.

The next day, I remember the phone ringing off the hook because all of my teachers were calling me and introducing themselves. They were so welcoming, and they told me, ‘We are dedicated to your success. We want to help you succeed here.’ I remember thinking, wow, this is how it should be.

My favorite part about ECOT was the faculty. In the beginning, I’d get calls from my teachers once a week asking how I was, if there was anything more they could do for me, if I wanted to set up a private time online with them. After that, I’d get messages saying, ‘Wow, you did a great job. I’m so proud of you.’ They were so encouraging.

I loved that we had online classes so I could attend lectures with my headset on. As long as I met the due dates, I could do my schoolwork late at night, if I wanted to, or early in the morning. I finally felt like I could take control of my life.

By the time I finished my sophomore year, I brought my GPA up from 1.4 to 3.6.

I loved the social aspect of ECOT, too. I made lifelong friends in my classes. I got to meet a lot of my classmates and teachers at two Family Nights in Dayton. We all hung out and it didn’t matter where we were from, what we looked like, what our stories were – we were there for the same reason. Something happened to each of us that made us choose this way to learn. It was very gratifying.

I finally got my love of learning back. I had lost that when my mom became sick and I became too scared to leave the house. I started reading, researching, and learning again. ECOT renewed my absolute thirst for knowledge, and it has stuck with me.

I graduated from ECOT in June of 2011 in the top ten percent of a class of more than a thousand students, with a GPA of 3.89. Then I graduated from Cincinnati State on the merit list. I am now a state-licensed security officer, a nationally- and state-certified EMT, and I hold a gaming license. Without ECOT, I would have never gotten this far.

Sara helping out at a college EMS exam

Sara helping out at a college EMS exam

A lot of people don’t realize that these options are available. A lot of people don’t believe that ECOT is a real school that you can actually get into college after. I would absolutely recommend ECOT because a lot of kids need another option where they can be respected and actually cared for by teachers.

ECOT worked for me because they actually understood. The teachers would ask, ‘Why did you choose to be here?’ and I would tell them, and they understood. If I told them, ‘I can’t make this lecture because my mom has a doctor’s appointment,’ they understood, and they would reschedule for me. They actually cared about the knowledge they were instilling in their students, instead of just the checks they were making from it.

I can honestly say that ECOT saved my life. I had attempted suicide 17 times by the time I finally left the brick-and-mortar school. ECOT helped me heal. ECOT enabled me to continue with therapy and build my self-esteem. If it weren’t for the teachers at ECOT, I probably would not be here. They really took an interest in my well-being, both academically and psychologically, and if not for them, I don’t know where I would be.”

Originally Published February 28 2016

Updated December 16 2016

ECOT is currently involved in a legal action with the Ohio Department of Education. The department is attempting to limit school choice by ripping funding away from ECOT and other eschools based on selective and retroactive enforcement of absurd attendance rules. 

We need your help. Please Take Action Now to support school choice and ECOT in Ohio.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by authors and interviewees on ECOT PALS blogs are the author's and interviewees alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) or any other individual or group. Would you like your opinion or story to be published on the ECOT PALS blog? Please contact us to inquire.