For SeeWorth Academy alternative school's football team, the coaching continues off the field 

Around the state, high school football teams are finishing up or preparing for the playoffs. For Oklahoma City's Justice Alma Wilson SeeWorth Academy, whose last scheduled game was against the John Marshall Bears Nov. 5, the year came to a challenging close.

One team member, Trayston Robinson, 19, a junior, died this fall. Three other students or recent students at the school have also died since the semester began. Marcel Jackson, 17, a junior, and recent former student Jesse Howard, 20, were killed in a car accident. Marquis Patterson, 15, a sophomore, was shot and killed while allegedly taking part in a home invasion in Midwest City on Oct. 21.

 "We lost four of our students," Director Janet Grigg said. The team only had 14 or 15 players to begin with, requiring they take the field for both offense and defense. They forfeited their games against Newcastle, Heritage Hall and John Marshall to close the season.

"We're grieving," she said.

If this fall has been a rocky year for the students " much less the football team " at the charter school, it illustrates the teachers' and administrators' fears realized. The alternative-education site's educators worry about their student body on weekends and at nights " any time students aren't on campus. Many students come from backgrounds of generational poverty, which means their family has been poverty-level for at least two generations. Gang membership can feel like security. When it comes to academics, 97 percent of the third- through- twelfth-graders are below grade-level, according to Grigg " and sometimes six or seven grades below grade-level.

Silas West, 18, a senior, whose peers affectionately call "Moose," summarized life "out there," beyond SeeWorth's walls: "It's a whole lot of enemies. "¦ You gotta watch your back a lot outside of school," he said. "They've got all these gang activities. But inside of school "¦ it's a place of love. "¦ Students here, they'll come up to you and say, 'Moose, I love you.'"

FORWARD PROGRESS

Educators' goal at SeeWorth is reflected in the name of the school " to literally help students to see their worth, and to learn to make good decisions based on that worth. Education is not simply about academics. Even coaching, according to head football coach Robert Walker, "is secondary." The team may have gone winless " and scoreless " this fall, but Walker maintains that the point is making students "better young men and women."

"The good thing "¦is they're trying something new. "¦ If they were at a traditional school, they wouldn't have tried," he said. "It's a release for a lot of them " it's something for them to get away for a little bit (from whatever's going on in their life outside of school).

"It may not show in the win or loss column, but they can still say, 'I've conquered this mountain. I've done something I've never done before.' "¦ You kind of coach football and coach life at the same time."

Coaching is also a position all teachers and administrators play at the school in some way or another. The past months, counselors have been posted at the school's doorways, available to those who need to talk or who appear troubled when they arrive. Knowing that he can talk to Grigg " or "Mama J" as students call her " or Vice Principal Tarrence Rodgers, known as "School Pop" or "School Dad," is what partly makes SeeWorth different from other schools, according to Brandon Douglas, 18, a senior.

"I know if I needed to talk to anybody "¦ I can talk to them," he said. "If I was at another school " "

Counseling can help students cope with challenges in their lives and those of their peers. But for administrators and teachers at SeeWorth, coping when students are involved in tragedy or make unwise decisions also means remembering success stories " and that all of the school's 450-some students can be success stories in the making. Take Douglas, a gifted boxer, who hopes to move to Denver after he graduates to train with the U.S. Olympic team.

"What I'm going for is rich and fame," he said, "and it's scary a little bit " because no one's ever done that in my family. And for me to be the first " scary."

Others' dreams are less in the spotlight.

Ravan Craig's dimples show when she talks about her dogs, a Rottweiler and a rat terrier.

"I love animals," the sophomore, 17, said. "If I could have over 200 dogs, I would. "¦ I hate to see animals hurt " I want to be able to help them."

Craig wants to be a vet someday and plans to go to a grooming school over the summer. She shook her head when she remembered what she was like before coming to SeeWorth.

"I was a very bad girl at my old school " I liked to fight," she said. She still fights sometimes, she added " but only in play. 

Samantha Ramirez, 17, a soft-spoken junior, said having her baby, Jayzeon, prompted her to want to finish high school. She hopes to become a phlebotomist after graduating. Before, she said, she wasn't really interested in school, because she was "too into the street."

"I need to graduate so my baby can have a better life than I have," she said. "I want to be able to give my baby whatever he wants " I want to be able to pay for his college when he gets older."

'DOING THE RIGHT THING'
There's a stigma attached to SeeWorth sometimes, Grigg and other administrators, teachers, and even students said " that these are the troubled kids, or the bad kids. It perpetuates a kind of stereotype the staff are striving to help students put aside. Walker maintains he hasn't heard anything in the halls at SeeWorth that he didn't hear at U.S. Grant or Southeast High School, places he previously worked.

"You can't be like just waiting for the hammer to fall (something bad to happen)," he said. "You go on doing what you do."

That is, in fact, what Principal Mongo Allen urges all his staff to do in the wake of the deaths this year.

"We had met with all these young men (who died) about making good choices, doing the right thing," he said. "All of them were talented, all of them had great personalities, and as a collective group we're saddened this would happen to any student " not just them.

"But that's "¦ why we keep doing what we're doing. For that four, there's another four we're trying to reach. There's another 40 we're trying to reach. We don't give up because something bad happened to one student. Don't quit."

Head football coach Robert Walker stands in the team's equipment room at SeeWorth Academy. Photo/Mark Hancock
SeeWorth senior Brandon Douglas. Photo/Mark Hancock

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