MONROE — Ella Ness, 17, is a senior at Leaders in Learning High School in Monroe. After suffering from panic attacks for months, Ness began to fall behind in her classes while attending Monroe High School. After she was diagnosed with a panic disorder, she began attending Leaders in Learning this year, and now is on track to graduate on time.
Question: Tell me about Leaders in Learning.
Answer: It’s an alternative school. If you’re behind in school or don’t feel comfortable at a bigger school, or you need accommodations, Leaders in Learning is where you go to get your education. In my case, I have a severe panic disorder, and going to Monroe High School I was crying everyday. Nothing worked for me. Here teachers really try to help you. I was behind in credits and I’ve already made up two and a half classes. You make up credits super fast and you actually have hope of graduating on time. And it fits your schedule. If you have to work or if your home situation is bad, they have resources for you.
Q: How did you find the school?
A: I was diagnosed with a panic disorder in February. My teachers were as understanding as they could be, but they also had classes, and so many students to teach so they couldn’t give me much leeway to be gone all the time. I started to fall behind a lot. I tried to go back to Monroe High School. But every time I was there, it was too overwhelming, so my mom pulled me out of school. I was going to do online school, but my brother’s girlfriend, who had graduated from Leaders in Learning a couple years ago, told me about it. Things changed drastically. I thought I wasn’t going to graduate. I was losing hope.
Q: What was it like to get diagnosed?
A: It was a long process. I started having panic attacks in October of last year. And I wasn’t diagnosed until February of this year. It was this progressive: I can’t leave my house anymore, I can’t eat anymore, I can’t sleep anymore. Then the panic disorder led to depression. I was always a really happy person, so it was a drastic, drastic change. And so when I was diagnosed it was a relief. There was an answer to everything.
Q: Whom would you recommend for Leaders in Learning?
A: People who suffer from really bad anxiety or depression, any mental illness. It’s for people who are falling behind in school, or feel like they might not make it. I really love coming to this school.
Q: Do you set goals with the teachers?
A: You talk about your individual goals and what you need to do to make up work. … They go through a plan that would realistically work for you. The main goal is graduating.
Q: Have you thought about next year?
A: Probably community college in Edmonds. I’m really interested in psychology. Growing up, school has always been the No. 1 thing for me. I’ve always wanted to go to college.
Q: It must have been frustrating when you were having difficulties.
A: It was really hard, because I was taking AP classes, I was taking honors classes. I was on track to graduate with good grades. And then I fell behind. That was never me.
Q: What are you interested in doing with a psychology degree?
A: I want to be a drug and alcohol counselor, or work with families that need help.
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: I like to draw and paint, which I didn’t get into until this summer.
Q: Did it help relax you?
A: Yeah it does, ‘cause I will just sit there and draw for a long, long time.
Q: What are the leadership classes like at Leaders in Learning?
A: We talk about character traits and we think about what would make us good leaders. It’s a class that has you learn more about yourself than anything.
Q: What have you learned about yourself?
A: I have a lot of empathy for people and I never realized it.
Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @lizzgior.