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'I've started to care about my future'.

I go to an alternative school called the Kingsley Wilderness Project in Clarksburg, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C. The school has about 30 students, all boys. Most of us would be classified as problem kids, or screw-ups: people who couldn't hack it in a "normal" high school.

I come from a middle-class family. My parents are together and have been there for me. But during my freshman year, I fell in with the wrong crowd at school and started using drugs. I was cutting class a lot and failing. I realized if I didn't do something soon, I wouldn't graduate and my future would be limited.

I was in the process of getting kicked out of my regular high school when I heard about Kingsley from a friend who goes here. There were a handful of alternative schools I was considering, but this one really stood out.

The first thing you notice when you take a trip to Kingsley is that it is located about 100 yards from the Clarksburg Correctional Facility, which is where the D.C. snipers were held. We have a clear view of the jail at all times. It reminds me every day that if I had kept up my former lifestyle, that's probably where I would have ended up. On my 16th birthday, I was arrested for burglary, and I'm still on probation; the next step would have been jail.

Kingsley, which opened 26 years ago, gave me the opportunity that I needed. School starts at 10 a.m., and our classes usually have no more than five students, so no one can slack off.

At my old school, my classes had about 30 kids per class and I sat in the back, dozing off. Here, we each work at our own pace and teachers work with us one on one. Plus, they understand our problems because they're used to working with kids like us.

Classes run till 1 p.m. and then we have lunch. From 2 to 4 p.m. we work at parks around the area, doing things like chopping wood and cleaning up. We get paid for this work, which is a big incentive. The pay isn't great, but it's nice to get a little something and even better to work outdoors: The time just flies when you're outdoors half the day.

I miss a few things from my old high school like the people--and the girls! But since I've been here my grade-point average has tripled and I have started to care about my future.

I was once headed down a path of destruction, but today I realize there are people and places that can help me.

Now, I actually want to do something with my life. And I'm aiming for college, something that just last year I wasn't even thinking about.

Danny Shirali is a senior at the Kingsley Wilderness Project school in Clarksburg, Md.
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Title Annotation:Voices
Author:Shirali, Danny
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 13, 2004
Words:488
Previous Article:A legacy of voids & visions.
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