Paul Jenkins has some advice for teen-agers thinking about goofing off during their early years in high school. "Give it all your effort from the start," said Jenkins. "Because once you get behind, it's hell to catch back up."
And Jenkins, who graduated from Big Sky High School on Saturday, knows all about catching up.
In order to walk across the stage with his Big Sky classmates, Jenkins was forced to take on the biggest "catch-up" program in school history by enrolling in 14 different courses during the final semester of his senior year.
"Basically I had to make up more than one year in one semester," Jenkins said. "Senior year is supposed to be the easiest, but it sure wasn't for me."
While many of his senior classmates at Big Sky were finishing their final semester of high school with a five-class schedule, Jenkins was forced to take on a full eight-class load. Jenkins also took three classes at the Missoula County Public Schools District's night school program at Willard School, and another three courses via correspondence.
Jenkins' class load included five English, three math and two U.S. history classes. He also took government, biology, culinary arts and "prep for life" courses.
"That's our record for one semester," said Jim Lodge, the Big Sky senior counselor. "The official Big Sky record was 12 before."
Lodge said he talked to Jenkins last fall about his plans for graduation.
"We sat down and I said, 'Do you want to graduate or do four years and move on,' " Lodge said. "He indicated he would like to get his diploma."
Lodge told Jenkins that because of his poor track record during his early years at Big Sky, he would really have to buckle down to finish high school by June. But apparently the message didn't sink in. Jenkins only completed the requirements for five of the eight classes he signed up for last fall.
"At Christmastime I said, 'He's a dead duck, he's not going to make it,' " Lodge said. "We had another meeting and I told him that nobody had ever done what he needed to do to graduate. I told him I didn't think he could do it."
That was when Jenkins kicked into gear.
"I think what I told him was more motivating, than discouraging," Lodge said. "I think he wanted to prove me wrong."
After enlisting Lodge's help in signing up for night school and correspondence classes, Jenkins promptly went about proving his counselor, and many other doubters, wrong.
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"All of a sudden, he just hit it," Lodge said. "Basically, he did one semester at home and one here at school. I am just amazed. This isn't something you see very often. … We're pleased with him. Really pleased."
But Lodge is quick to caution others that a 14-class final semester is not the ideal way to graduate.
"This is not the way to do high school," he said. "But it does prove you should never say never."
Jenkins also doesn't recommend following his approach to graduation. After attending classes from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. each weekday, Jenkins would head to night school, then home to study and complete his correspondence work. Weekends and late-night hours were all reserved for schoolwork.
"I must have read at least 10 novels and a ton of short stories. And I bet I took 100 tests and quizzes this semester," Jenkins said. "It was just nonstop homework. … While my friends were out having fun, I was doing homework."
However, Jenkins isn't too upset. He points out that he also had his share of fun early on in high school, when attending classes and doing homework weren't high on his list of priorities.
"I was basically being lazy and slacking off during my sophomore and junior years," Jenkins said. "I was having way more fun than I should have. … I realized way too late what I needed to be doing."
A straight-A student through grade school and middle school, Jenkins credits his parents with finally getting him back on the right track. Along with shelling out considerable sums of money for night school and correspondence tuition and books, they let him know how important it was for him to graduate on time.
y finally made me realize I wasn't going to graduate with my friends," he said. "My parents finally got it sunk into me. … I wouldn't have got through this without my parents."
Despite the heavy workload, Jenkins managed to pull up his grades enough to get him accepted next fall into the University of Montana.
"It was definitely a burden," Jenkins said. "But it was definitely worth it. I didn't think so when I was doing it, but I do now."
Monday - 6/7/99