Anthony Banks is a popular kid at South Whidbey Academy.
He walks a fine line with his social life. He had to, it almost cost him his high school education.
“I wasn’t ready for adulthood, to go out and live on my own,” Banks said. “Dropping out and getting my GED wasn’t the answer.”
As a senior last year, he learned he did not have enough credits to graduate. It was tough for him to hear. Once graduation rolled around and pictures of his peers in their caps and gowns popped up on Facebook, it was nearly unbearable.
“People were seeing that I wasn’t graduating, that was a challenge for me and hard to accept,” he said.
Banks, 18, bucked up, took on that challenge and will graduate from the South End’s alternative school next week as the student choice class speaker. For the fifth-year senior, simply receiving his diploma will be special. The chance to address his friends, teachers and loved ones at Thomas Berry Hall in Clinton, is more daunting.
“Nervous, instantly,” Banks said of his reaction to being nominated as the class speaker. “My heart just started pounding because we started talking about it.
“I feel like my class has faith in me. They feel like I’m worthy of speaking on their behalf. I’m honored for that.”
Decisions he made back in ninth grade when his family lived in Lancaster, Calif., set Banks back a few credits from the standard high school trajectory. When his family moved to Whidbey Island a few years ago, just in time for Banks to start 10th grade, he enrolled at the former alternative high school, Bayview School. Smaller class sizes, like an art course that had five students, proved to be the right fit for Banks. Fewer students meant less distraction.
“Whenever I went to the public schools, I was all about the popularity thing and hanging out with my friends,” Banks said. “The fact there weren’t a whole lot of kids around helped me focus on my studies.”
Bayview and its successor, the academy, were positive changes in his life.
“I got the experience of people who didn’t really care about me,” he said. “At Bayview, I had people who actually cared about me and kids with totally different attitudes. It definitely helped me in the long run. It changed me as a person.”
Teachers and volunteers at the alternative schools were able to keep him on task. With graduation right around the corner, his grades hover around a B average. And Banks knows his academic investments came from teachers like Louise Fiori, Karyle Kramer, former school counselor Charlene Ray and volunteer Tom Rowland, who will also speak at the graduation ceremony.
“He wouldn’t want me out of my seat talking to people,” Banks said of Rowland. “He wanted me focused.”
Covering social studies in Kramer’s class was one of the highlights of his time in South Whidbey schools. Banks took her contemporary world issues course this year. Reading weekly magazines and watching news about current events opened Banks to the wider world. Like a switch being flipped, it gave Banks a passion for knowledge.
“Every time I went there, I wanted to learn more,” he said. “Reading all the things going on in the world was mind boggling.”
Banks learned to give back, too. He was a teacher’s assistant this year, helping his peers and the middle school students at the kindergarten through 12th-grade school.
Outside school, Banks played for the Falcon baseball team at South Whidbey High School the past two seasons. He can be seen riding his BMX bike or fixed-gear bike at the skate park and pump track at South Whidbey Community Park. It would be a matter of right time, right place to catch him at one of his favorite activities, trail running, which he does to “clear his mind” and “jump over trees.”
Banks plans to attend a community college and then transfer to one of the state schools in California, like the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he can pursue a business degree and eventually a master’s degree in business administration. Running a business is in his future, Banks said, and he’d like to operate a youth service organization some day.
That will be his way of continuing the legacy of Bayview School and South Whidbey Academy, the commitment of the teachers and tutors who guided and challenged him.