Senior recognized for big turnaround

It should take Princeton High School senior Marie Lemke less than a minute to go from her seat at this year’s graduation ceremony to the walkway in front to pick up her diploma.

But behind that short walk will have been Lemke’s nearly four-year struggle to overcome a feeling of defeat and failing grades, that if left unchecked, could have perhaps kept her from graduating with the Princeton High School class of 2012 this Friday.

Lemke was honored during the May 16 PHS scholarship awards night for her effort to turn herself around in school. It was on that night that PHS Princeton Alternative Secondary School (PASS) instructor Sue VanHooser presented Lemke with the first-ever $500 Sue VanHooser Scholarship. It recognizes a senior who has struggled to achieve success in school. The applicant must have ended up with a high school GPA of more than 2.0 and must submit an essay on how they tackled the hurdles they had to achieve what they did.

Lemke, an outgoing senior with jet black hair and a pleasant demeanor, shared in an interview last Thursday, what many of her struggles were in school. Seated nearby to help explain was instructor VanHooser.

Lemke could have decided to keep some of that information private but said she felt that by making that public, it might help some other students break a cycle they may have of feeling defeat.

Lemke indicated that she did not have such confidence when she was in the middle school and the early part of high school here. It also was apparent that the PASS program at PHS was important in facilitating Lemke to get to where she is now.


Entered PASS        as a sophomore

Lemke enrolled in PASS starting in her tenth grade. She also, at some point after her sophomore year, took night classes through the alternative learning center run by the Oak Land Vocational consortium of the Princeton, St. Francis and Cambridge-Isanti districts. She had to take required classes that she had failed in.

As Lemke prepared last week for graduation this Friday, June 1, she had reached a GPA of 2.7 in her senior year.

She also spoke with anticipation about her plans to attend St. Cloud Technical College for two years to become a licensed practical nurse and then transfer to St. Cloud State College to become a registered nurse (RN).

Lemke recently completed a certified nursing assistant (CNA) course, as well, at Anoka Ramsey Community College in Cambridge. Once finishing a June 5-8 clinical nursing assistance experience at a nursing home facility in Cambridge, she will take her state exam to get her CNA certificate.


Originally from      Las Vegas

Lemke moved to Princeton in the fifth grade from Las Vegas, Lemke recalling the big change in environment. Las Vegas is lit up all night, has a gas station and McDonald’s on every block, and sits in a “desert valley of hotness,” she said. Lemke contrasted that to Minnesota with its four seasons and where “you need a flashlight to see at night.”

Whether those changes had any effect on her attitude about school a year later when she began classes at Princeton Middle School is really not known.

But she did say that she took advantage of the “more freedom” she found in the middle school compared to the elementary grades, and began “slacking off.” She just did the minimal homework required, did not pay attention to the teachers, and did not care about school, she explained, It was a “really bad attitude,” she admitted.

The result: She received C-minuses and Ds and even failed some classes at the middle school.

Meanwhile, her sense that she could do well in school anymore had sunk by the time she became a freshman at the high school. She remembers thinking at the time that she “couldn’t do anything.”

Her grade point average in her freshman year at PHS was 0.9 and she only earned eight of the 15 required course credits that year.

That “pulled me into the PASS program,” Lemke said.

Lemke also had “behavioral issues,” VanHooser said.

“I was an extremely angry person,” Lemke agreed. “I felt pretty stuck,” explaining that she didn’t feel she could get herself out of the academic mire she was in.

The PHS PASS program has six instructors – VanHooser, Scott Walquist, Heather Laudenbach, Kris Wilkinson, Shelly Ash and Leanne Olmstead. Walquist said that he and fellow PASS instructors all encouraged Lemke to do better.

“We knew she was very capable of it,” Walquist said.

Walquist remembers that it was in Lemke’s junior year when she began to make the noticeable turnaround, though VanHooser notes that Lemke’s GPA in her sophomore year was 2.16, considerably better than in her freshman year.

Whatever point in time it was, Lemke does remember recognizing some troubling signs. She noticed sometime after her freshman year, she explained, how some of her friends “had their stuff together” and were already making college plans while she was “going nowhere. They knew what they were going to do in life and I was stuck.”

“I saw a furious warrior,” VanHooser said, describing Lemke at the point where “a switch went on” in her mind as Lemke decided she was not going to continue on a dead-end track.

VanHooser says that Lemke probably began thinking about her situation in her sophomore year and that it was in her junior year that she “internalized it.” Lemke adopted the attitude that she was “worth…taking the risk” to do better.

VanHooser explained that if someone has a pattern of not performing satisfactorily, they can easily just decide to stay in that mode and put up defense mechanisms to block out criticisms. They may fear that if they try to do better and fail, they will look even worse, VanHooser said. VanHooser described Lemke’s change as gradual, and that Lemke gained confidence as she met challenges, so that by her senior year, her attitude was, “I can do this.”

“I felt like a hundred pounds was off my shoulders,” Lemke remembers feeling. “I had a future. I was not stupid and I could do something with my life.” She even remembers thinking that she had matured more than some of her friends.

Lemke continued staying above 2.0 in her GPA, getting a 2.2 in her junior year, before ending up with 2.7 as a senior. Lemke says that math was especially difficult to get through. VanHooser said there was an integrated math program that PASS students could take at that time which involved less theory and more application, and that it helped Lemke.

Not only has Lemke done well in helping herself be a good student, VanHooser said, but she has also done a really good job in mentoring some underclassmen by sharing her experiences and getting them to believe they can do what she did.




A common denominator that PASS students have is that they are all struggling, VanHooser said. The PASS program helps these students, she said, because “they develop as a group,” sometimes prodding each other. VanHooser says that she, as a PASS instructor, will usually be silent when she sees some of that mentoring going on. It’s because when a student hears from a student peer to “get their rear in gear” it is going to be more effective than if a teacher says it. There is a “comfort zone” among those students for those interactions to take place, VanHooser noted. A student who has struggled can tell another struggling student that failing something is not the end, that there is another way to get around the obstacle, VanHooser added.

The PASS program’s small class size also helps the struggling students succeed, VanHooser said, because they are more apt to ask questions in class, than if they were in a class of 30 with a “lot of smarties” and no one else is asking questions.


Choice of career


Lemke, for some years, had thought she might want to go into the field of advertising and marketing, but then about three years ago had second thoughts. When she took a course on nursing she realized, she explained, that she wanted to do that for a career. Also attractive was that a  couple friends were in that field and seemed to like it, she said.

Lemke’s struggle in school might have helped influence her choice to go into nursing as she said: “I can help people (in nursing) and can help somebody feel better about themselves.”

She is also thinking about wanting to work in a hospital emergency department, she said, explaining that she works best under pressure and likes the hectic pace.

Lemke, by now, must have a good taste of what hectic means, considering what she had to accomplish in three years or less in high school.