JazzMarie Herndon has spent the last two years juggling as many as three jobs to support herself and a 2-year-old. For the last few months, she has cut her workload to just over 25 hours a week at Build-A-Bear, but for good reason.
Herndon, just 18 years old, graduated from Murray High School on Thursday with a Certified Nurse Assistant credential from the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center.
About 200 people piled into the Burley Middle School gymnasium Thursday evening to watch Murray’s senior class walk out of high school and into the next phase of their lives.
Many came to Murray needing a change of pace and smaller crowds. All got smaller class sizes, more one-on-one time with teachers and no option to get any grade lower than a B.
In keeping with the school’s one-on-one atmosphere, each of the 24 Murray graduates chose one adult to speak on their behalf and a second to hand them their diploma. Each student also received a gift bag containing the school’s mascot and a copy of Dr. William Glasser’s book “Choice Theory,” the school’s founding principle.
Reed Kattmann, who came to Murray from Henley Middle School, asked his father to speak for him.
“Reed’s path to Murray was like a lot of yours. Smart, capable, dedicated, but just not quite comfortable in their base schools,” the elder Kattmann said. “With his three years at Murray … he has gained the right attitude and the right tools to let that future unfold.”
Almost all Murray students will say they became more self-aware over their time at the school.
Isis Neumann graduated Thursday with just two years of high school under her belt. Still only 16, Neumann decided quickly after middle school that she was ready to be done with school.
Murray gave her an opportunity to get a standard diploma by the time most students are gearing up for junior year. Instead, Neumann will attend Piedmont Virginia Community College in the fall to become certified in sign language.
“I’m glad, so glad to be done with high school,” she said. “It was important to me to finish early, and here they actually let you do that; at other schools, you have to apply.”
After PVCC, Neumann said, she plans to travel.
For Noah Walker, an initial shock turned into a love for school.
“When I first came here, I was kind of expecting an easy ride, but then it was kind of like a punch to the face,” he said. “Suddenly, I had 20 math assignments that I had to redo.”
Closed off and quiet in middle school, Walker’s extroverted side came out at Murray. He took to wearing a suit daily, earning the nickname “Suitguy.”
“Before I came to Murray, I was just really quiet and shy,” he said. “I did everything I could to just blend in to the crowd and not stand out. When I came to Murray, it was a really open community, and I just felt like I could start relaxing.”
Without the individual attention she got at Murray, Herndon said she would not be where she is today.
“If I was going to Albemarle High School, my base school, I don’t think I would have found myself as easily as I did here,” she said. “I came in with a lot of anger problems, a lot of authority problems. But I found some teachers that I knew and that I trusted.”
Used to being teased and outcast at traditional high schools, Herndon found comfort in Murray’s tiny, close-knit community.
“I have a 2-year-old, and so at AHS I got made fun of a lot, and got kicked out of a lot of classes,” she said. “Here, everyone has been really supportive of me and they helped me with whatever I needed.”
Now clear-eyed and confident, Herndon intends to take a gap year to spend time with her son before enrolling at PVCC with the intention of transferring to James Madison University.
The school allowed Jordyn Poindexter to focus on her love for poetry, something she previously felt she had to contain.
“I have always loved to write and read poetry, and I get to do that here,” said Poindexter, who will attend Hampton University this fall. “At the other schools, it’s like, ‘Oh, look at her, she thinks she’s a poet.’ Here you get, ‘Wow, that was really good. Want to read mine?’”
Poindexter attended both Charlottesville High and Albemarle High before finding Murray before her senior year, she said.
“I am going to miss it. It taught me a lot in this one year,” she said. “But I am just super excited for college. I think if I were not going to college I would miss it more.”
Murray Principal Ashby Kindler praised the students’ growth.
“This is what we want of our graduates,” she said. “We are so proud of every step of the way, and so honored to have been a part of the process.”