Mount Tom Academy graduates 7

  • Barbara Cheney, who is the head teacher at Mount Tom Academy, speaks during graduation, Tuesday, May 28, 2019 at Holyoke Community College. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Chloe Roux talks about a dress she made during her senior capstone presentation prior to graduating Mount Tom Academy, Tuesday, May 28, 2019 at Holyoke Community College. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kade Sandomierski speaks during the Mount Tom Academy graduation, Tuesday, May 28, 2019 at Holyoke Community College. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Autumn Fallon, speaks during her senior capstone presentation prior to graduating Mount Tom Academy, Tuesday, May 28, 2019 at Holyoke Community College. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mount Tom Academy graduates Nathan Garcia, from left, Chloe Roux, Autumn Fallon and David Pantoja applaud for Kade Sandomierski, the keynote speaker, Tuesday, at Holyoke Community College. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mount Tom Academy graduates David Pantoja, from left, Autumn Fallon and Chloe Roux turn their tassels during graduation, Tuesday, May 28, 2019 at Holyoke Community College. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Autumn Fallon receives her diploma from Barbara Cheney, who is the head teacher of Mount Tom Academy, during graduation, Tuesday, May 28, 2019 at Holyoke Community College. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mount Tom Academy graduates David Pantoja, from left, Autumn Fallon, Chloe Roux and Nathan Garcia smile after receiving their diplomas during graduation, Tuesday, May 28, 2019 at Holyoke Community College. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mount Tom Academy graduates Autumn Fallon, left, and Chloe Roux smile after receiving their diplomas during graduation, Tuesday, at Holyoke Community College. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/29/2019 12:15:07 AM

HOLYOKE — When Autumn Fallon stood up in front of her classmates, family and friends at Mount Tom Academy’s graduation on Tuesday, she was the picture of confidence. As she presented her capstone project, she drew applause and laughter from the audience as she made eye contact with the crowd.

But she wasn’t always like that.

“Since I’ve been at Mount Tom Academy, my confidence has increased dramatically,” Fallon said, listing some of the biggest changes she has seen in herself since arriving at the school from Hampshire Regional High School. “I have come out of my shell, I have been more happy, I made friends.”

Fallon was one of seven students graduating from Mount Tom Academy, an alternative educational program for high school students at risk of dropping out of school. The students come from their district schools and either return to complete their studies or finish their high school work at Mount Tom Academy, which is administered by the Collaborative for Educational Services in Northampton.

“They had to battle to get this degree,” said Barbara Cheney, the school’s lead instructor. “For some of them, they felt that the educators in their lives kind of threw up their hands … When they came to Mount Tom Academy, they found a voice, a choice and a place where they belong.”

For Fallon, those words certainly rang true.

“I’m proud of myself,” she said between hugs from family members. “I never thought I’d graduate.”

That was a theme during Tuesday’s graduation ceremony, when many of the graduates spoke about the impact the school had on their lives.

“It’s all very welcoming,” Chloe Roux, originally from Belchertown High School, said of Mount Tom Academy.

Prior to the pomp and circumstance of the graduation ceremony, students presented the self-directed capstone projects they completed as part of their studies at Mount Tom Academy.

Roux was first, and described her participation in her high school’s Project Runway show, during which students design and model their creations made from dresses donated by local businesses.

“I got the most plain dress,” Roux explained, showing a photo of the simple donated dress she had to work with. But Roux said that she had wanted to participate in the show for years. “I decided to run with it.”

The resulting creation was far different from the original dress. She displayed her creation in front of the room, showing photos of herself modeling the dress and drawing applause from the audience. After the ceremony, she said it felt “awesome” to have given the presentation in front of such a big audience.

“I didn’t think I’d be able to do that,” she said.

The keynote speaker for the graduation was Kade Sandomierski, who taught at the school as an educational intern this semester. He said that at a traditional school, some students are allowed to fall through the cracks. But not at Mount Tom Academy.

“Here, the power is back in the students’ hands,” he said. “Here, they were forced to do something special.”

Sandomierski said that as someone who also graduated this semester from Western New England University, he is facing some of the same uncertainty his students are.

“We’re all dancing in limbo with each other and I think it’s beautiful,” he said.

“I believe in you,” he added.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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