Heck yeah! Mahtomedi Academy student goes from uninspired to proud graduate

Heck yeah! Mahtomedi Academy student goes from uninspired to proud graduate
Posted on 05/28/2020
Terrence and family

In summer 2019, Mat Johnston and his husband Kirk suddenly became guardians of a 17-year-old named Terrence, with whom they had been acquainted through Mat’s brother and nephew. Terrence’s life up until that point had been unpredictable; he had tough experiences and loss in his life that presented him with some challenges.

Terrence’s school experiences up until he started living with Mat and Kirk were uninspiring. He didn’t feel like teachers and staff knew how to support him at his home high school outside the metro area, and he once overheard a staff member from the front office call him “Truancy Terrence” behind his back. Mat and Kirk are both educators - Mat works at Aris-Woodwinds, and Kirk in the White Bear Lake school district - so they knew how important it was to find a safe and supportive school for Terrence’s senior year.

Mat did not necessarily want Terrence to attend 916 Mahtomedi Academy just because it was a 916 school, so they toured that program as well as one other that was not part of 916. Terrence felt that Mahtomedi Academy would be a good fit, so he enrolled.

“His teachers and case manager have all done their part to make a young adult feel like a million bucks,” Mat said. “Every teacher met him exactly where he was at and built him up from there.” In addition to the teachers at the school, Terrence credits administrative staff and school leaders as being important influences during his final year of high school. 

He is known at Mahtomedi Academy for his humor, friendliness and good attitude. “Heck yeah,” Terrence often says when good things happen to him. It was a phrase that staff and students heard a lot at Mahtomedi Academy, as Terrence not only built relationships with those around him, but also built confidence in his academic skills and ability to overcome challenges.

Once COVID-19 caused schools to switch to distance learning throughout the state, Terrence continued to stay engaged in part because of the relationships he had built with the staff there. This year, Mat says, was one of the best of Terrence’s life. “Last week he had a Google Meet with a bunch of his teachers,” Mat explained. “We were so impressed that they all took time to connect with him about life and how he was doing instead of focusing solely on the credits he needs to finish up.”

Mat and Kirk have planned a drive-by graduation celebration for Terrence in June, with staggered time slots and social distancing measures in place. Rather than a yard sign that says congratulations, they will get one that reads “Heck Yeah,” the perfect way to summarize Terrence’s accomplishment.