Regardless of life circumstances, getting an education should be the No. 1 priority in everyone’s lives, recent high school graduate Dani Forrest says.

Regardless of life circumstances, getting an education should be the No. 1 priority in everyone’s lives, recent high school graduate Dani Forrest says.

Dropping out of high school tempted Forrest, though, she said Tuesday night before her graduation from Valley View High School in Blue Springs. It would have been the easy choice, especially when her newborn daughter woke her up in the middle of the night, and Forrest needed to awaken for school by 6 a.m.

“There is always a way. You just have to find it,” said Forrest, who works full-time at Wendy’s and has aspirations of earning a degree in psychology and human services so she can help teenagers in situations similar to her own. “Keep going. As soon as you think you’re down in the hole and can’t get back up, just push yourself to keep going.”

Seventy-five students graduated at Hall-McCarter Education Center, and Valley View High School’s 2011 class earned $40,000 in scholarships. The high school has a mission to develop personal, academic and social skills in students who are deemed at risk of dropping out of high school.  

Instead of a valedictorian address, four students – Alyssa Cox, Brynisha King-Tolliver, Samantha Vinson and Erick Bowens – spoke before their classmates. Valley View’s Teacher of the Year, art instructor Dale Maginness, also addressed the graduating class, telling them to set aside their fears in life. Maginness also recognized graduate Taylor Sifford as the first student in Valley View’s history to gain acceptance into the Kansas City Art Institute.

Forrest started attending Valley View at age 15 when she found out she was pregnant with her daughter, Erin, who is now 2. Forrest said she liked the variety of students who attend Valley View, though she also found support in other female students who were pregnant or who had young children of their own.

The students’ circumstances each stand as a story on their own, whether it’s 20-year-old Shanikka White, who realized she needed to go back to high school to set an example for her now 4-year-old daughter, or Trevor Porter, a tall yet soft-spoken student who always loved school but started falling behind in middle school and decided to apply to Valley View so his individual needs could be addressed.

Porter graduated with all A’s and B’s in his courses and has started applying for full-time jobs, but he also wants to return to school someday for computer science or graphic design. White will attend MCC-Penn Valley this fall to become a certified nursing assistant, and one day, she wants to work with teens as a registered nurse.

“We may not have a homecoming, a prom or any sports teams, but we have something better. We have a team of wonderful staff members and students who aren’t going to give up on each other,” Cox said in her brief speech. “That’s a better team, in my opinion – to work together and not against.”