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Jeorge Andersen, an eighth-grader at C.S. Porter Middle School, works in math class Wednesday. Andersen is going to receive a Most Inspiring Student Award, along with other middle and high school students, from Missoula County Public Schools.

Last year, Jeorge Andersen had the most discipline referrals of any student at C.S. Porter Middle School, and landed a spot in the school's structured learning program.

This year as an eighth-grader, he has one discipline referral, has earned his way out of the structured learning program and is set to receive a Most Inspiring Student Award on Thursday night for his change in attitude.

The awards are given to Missoula County Public Schools middle and high school students who have overcome obstacles to achieve. 

"It's a completely different kid, 180," said Amy Robar, a CSCT therapist who has worked with Andersen for three years.

Andersen's turnaround, though, came at an emotional price.

After years of internalizing his anger and frustration toward his father and exhibiting it instead at school by not listening to teachers and misbehaving, he realized his home situation was not healthy or conducive to his success at school.

Last spring, he sat in the vehicle while his intoxicated father was passed out, fearing he would not wake up.

"I didn't really like to see him like that," Andersen said.

The situation was not unusual at home. Andersen had known for some time that excessive drinking and fighting were not normal, but he loved his dad.

After that day in the parking lot, though, Andersen made the decision to tell Robar to call Child Protective Services and he now lives with an aunt.

Now Andersen is focused on a larger picture and his future, instead of taking care of his father and his own basic needs, Robar said.

"I think that he advocated for himself at a young age to get out of a bad situation," she said.

"He's almost made me love my job more," she said about helping him work through his challenges and seeing him succeed.

Already, Andersen has shared his story with peers who struggle and said his advice to others mirrors his own experience.

"If you're struggling, I feel like you should to talk to somebody about it," he said.

***

Tristan Moreland lives at the "edge of the world" – more commonly known as the DeSmet area.

The move this year has been one of several changes, including his parents' divorce and father's move to Kalispell, and the transition to middle school, for the Washington Middle School sixth-grader.

The two things that have not changed are his diabetes and autism, which make change difficult.

"But Tristan's kind of rocking at it. He's being what they call resilient," said his mom, Nanci Waterhouse.

Moreland said he loves school because it gives him time to hang out with his friends, but his diabetes means that he has to closely monitor his blood sugar levels and sometimes has lows during times he needs to concentrate or would rather be spending time with friends than trying to re-balance.

Having autism also makes it tough to follow along in class and sometimes he loses track of what the teacher is saying. So he stays in during recess sometimes and spends a class period he otherwise would be in a non-core subject to catch up on his studies.

Working hard is important, Moreland said, adding he doesn't want to fall behind.

"I want to be the greatest principal," he said about his future plans.

"Or something magnificent that can change the world," he added.

Moreland said he feels a little awkward and weird about being named a most inspiring student.

His older sister received the same award when she was in sixth grade, but she was not interviewed for a newspaper article, he specified.

What Waterhouse loves most about her fedora-loving, YouTube-watching son is his ability to take things in stride, she said.

"I think it's a beautiful thing and I don't know what else to call it than grit," she said, adding she used to try to explain his behavior by saying he has autism.

Now, she notices that he doesn't explain himself that way to people. "And (I) really hope that people get the message that kids come with all types of different abilities and the things that make Tristan unique are some of the things we talk about as disabilities," she said.

For Moreland, being different has its challenges but that's all right.

"It's OK if everyone's not really the same. Nobody's perfect," he said.

His advice for others is the same thing he tells himself when he finds himself falling behind: "You can do it, push it."

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