WESTBROOK – The first two years of Miranda Trask’s career at Westbrook High School were not memorable ones.

The 18-year-old senior said that she had no motivation to succeed in class and wandered far from a path that would lead to graduation. Fortunately for her, she discovered the school’s music department. Her success there led to success in the classroom, and with some help from dedicated teachers, Trask is in line to join her classmates at Westbrook’s graduation on Friday, June 8.

Trask is one of 120 members of the Westbrook High School class of 2012 who will march onto the school’s Olmsted Field at 6 p.m. to receive diplomas in the school’s first outdoor graduation ceremony in many years. (In case of inclement weather, the ceremony will be held at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center on the same time and date.)

Trask has been accepted to Southern Maine Community College, where she hopes to major in either music or psychology. Her trajectory from certain failure – “I was the girl who skipped all of my classes” – to success can be traced to her junior year, when she signed up for chorus.

“The beginning of high school, I really didn’t do my work,” she said. But she found that chorus boosted her confidence and allowed her to bring that newly found confidence into the rest of her classes.

“The music helped me come to school,” Trask said. “Without chorus, I would have probably just wanted to sleep in.

“When I joined chorus, I started getting really good grades in that, so I realized that I could get better grades, so I started trying and that felt nice. I got positive attention instead of negative attention.”

But Trask didn’t just limit herself to singing. She decided that she wanted to learn to play the piano, as well. While she is taking a piano lab this year, Trask began the process of learning on her own – and that provided another dose of self-esteem.

“I think the music (helped) and the teacher (chorus teacher Michelle Snow) did,” she said. “She helped me apply myself more. Piano’s not easy, you have to apply yourself more and stick with it even if it gets frustrating, and that can apply in everything outside of piano. It boosted my confidence and it helped me realize that I could (succeed).”

“The last two years have been the best years that I have had,” Trask added of her involvement in the music program. “It brightens my day.”

But all the self-confidence in the world couldn’t change the fact that, because of her first two years, Trask would need some help to graduate. She found that help in teacher Jennifer Brooks and the school’s alternative learning program.

The program is designed to help at-risk kids like Trask get on track, and Brooks works to build a trusting relationship with the students in the program to make sure that they get back on track.

“Once you have a trusting relationship with a student, they’ll do anything you ask them to do,” Brooks said.

Trask said Brooks has been invaluable to her.

“Without her, I would not be graduating,” she said.

It’s easy to see the strong bond between Trask and Brooks as they talk in the classroom, and Brooks said she is proud of the way that Trask has managed to turn herself around. “She’s a great kid,” Brooks said. “She’s one of those kids who hasn’t had the easiest path and she really turned it around. She is what Westbrook High School does right. That young lady became a pianist here (and) she became a vocalist here. She may have struggled a little bit academically, but once she came into her own, she just sparkles.”

In fact, Trask refers to herself as Brooks’ “Mini-Me,” and even would go as far as playfully stealing her teacher’s desk every day. Brooks finally found a way to make sure that she would have a seat in her own class – she secured a second teacher’s desk for Trask.

But it wasn’t just about getting her own desk back, Brooks said. She said that giving Trask a similar desk to her own has paid off academically for Trask.

“She was motivated, she would do all of her work when she was sitting at (my) desk,” Brooks said. “So when I saw her in that environment getting that work done, I set her up with her own.”

While it’s clear that Brooks has a good relationship with Trask and all of her students, that doesn’t mean that she is a pushover, especially when she sees kids falling behind with their work.

“She goes into ‘beast mode,’ that’s what she calls it,” Trask said. “It’s when she gets hard on you and you have to do your work.”

When asked about her “beast mode,” Brooks laughs and said despite the humorous nickname, she uses that strong attitude to make sure that kids keep up with their responsibilities and meet their obligations, much like being told to do chores at home. “It’s like when your mom gets on you,” she said.

Trask said she has felt the “wrath” of Brooks’ “beast mode” a couple of times, but she is thankful for the push.

“It helps you buckle down,” she said.

With graduation just a week or so away, Brooks said she sees good things in Trask’s future.

“I have very high hopes for her,” she said, adding that graduation is always an emotional time for her as she sees the students in her program like her own kids, and she takes an immense pleasure in seeing them succeed

“When you know what they’ve been through, how hard they’ve worked to overcome everything, there’s just so much pride and it’s very moving,” Brooks said. “Some of the things they get through, it’s unbelievable.”

As for Trask, she said she is looking forward to graduation, though, like most graduates, she does have some normal anxiety about what the future may bring.

“It’s exciting, but scary,” she said.

But even with that slight fear of the unknown, Trask said she is ready to build upon her last two years of high school and carry on that success.

“I feel like I came out of my shell and kept growing toward the end,” she said. “I feel more secure to go out into the world.”

Miranda Trask, left, says two things helped her find the right path at Westbrook High School: joining chorus and enrolling in the alternative learning program with teacher Jennifer Brooks. Trask and 120 other seniors graduate Friday, June 8. (Photo by Rich Obrey)
Miranda Trask made it her goal to learn how to play the piano. The effort “boosted my confidence and it helped me realize that I could (succeed),” said the Westbrook High School senior. (Photo by Rich Obrey)

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