Gordon recognized for showing initiative

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Student at alternative school earns Kohl scholarship
By: 

Anne Renel Times Herald Correspondent


Photo by Anne Renel

Falls Alternative Learning Site senior Ben Gordon points to a chemistry equation on his laptop as FALS Director Mark Trepanier offers guidance for solving the problem. Gordon has been selected to receive a $3,000 Herb Kohl Initiative Scholarship, which he will apply to college tuition next fall. Gordon is pursuing a career in archaeology.

An Oconto Falls student has turned a second chance opportunity into a $3,000 scholarship for college.

Ben Gordon, a 19-year-old student at Falls Alternative Learning Site, will receive a $3,000 Herb Kohl Initiative Scholarship. He plans to attend the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley in Menasha to work toward a degree in archaeology.

Gordon came to the Oconto Falls School District three years ago from Green Bay, opting to live with his grandparents and pursue a more positive environment for his education. He attended Oconto Falls High School for two years but was falling behind in credits. After he transferred to FALS, he never looked back.

“When you make positive changes for yourself and can really get to know yourself, you can advance,” he said.

Gordon enrolled in FALS as a junior and, within one school year, progressed from junior to senior status. He graduates May 29 at FALS.

FALS Director Mark Trepanier said he was impressed by Gordon’s dedication.

“He’s one of the first ones here in the morning and definitely the last one here at the end of the day,” Trepanier said.

Gordon said he struggled in the traditional school setting, which just didn’t work for him.

“When you’re pressured, it has the opposite effect on motivation,” he said.

He said the more pressure he felt to complete assignments, the more he shut down.

Things changed when he started attending FALS.

“The more personal, one-on-one connection with a teacher for most of the day who can help you with everything … that helps a lot,” he said.

Gordon has a passion for history and historical events, and that passion is obvious in his face when he talks about them.

“I really like working on uncovering history,” he said.

He hopes to become a field archaeologist, working hands-on at an archaeological dig some day.

“All I need is my hat and my whip,” he joked, referring to legendary movie character Indiana Jones.

Carol Lepak, Gordon’s grandmother, said Trepanier was instrumental in taking Gordon from a D and F student to a B-plus student.

“It hasn’t been easy for Ben,” she said. “He’s such a good kid. He wants to do a lot with his life.”

Lepak said she wasn’t aware the district had an alternative option for education until Trepanier pointed it out last year.

“Oconto Falls is fortunate to have an alternative school for kids who struggle in a regular high school,” said Lepak, who hopes her grandson’s experience will inspire other students to find success. “Hopefully this will encourage other students to give it a shot.”

FALS opened 18 years ago in the former city library building, 320 E. Central Ave. Twelve to 20 students enroll at FALS each year.

“(Gordon’s) a good example of what the alternative school is there for,” Oconto Falls School Superintendent Dave Polashek said.

He said FALS offers an opportunity for students to get a second chance to make a success story for themselves, and that’s what Gordon did.

“He got some outside recognition for that, and that doesn’t happen very often (with alternative school students). So that’s cool!” Polashek added.

Each year, approximately 85 graduating high school students are selected to receive the Herb Kohl Initiative Scholarship.

According to the Herb Kohl Foundation, “Recipients are students who have demonstrated a high level of motivation to achieve, have shown strong promise for achieving success in college and beyond, and have overcome personal obstacles or adversity, but have not yet received other academic-based scholarships.”

Gordon, Trepanier and Polashek attended a regional luncheon April 25 in Green Bay where Gordon was recognized and met retired U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl.