Turning it around, going back to school

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Mohamed Ali is going back to school Monday.

Last year, he was expelled from Lewiston High School after he had what he describes as a bad attitude toward school and teachers. He broke rules. “I was disrespectful.”

He skipped so many classes he failed his freshman year.

“I didn’t take my classes seriously,” the 16-year-old said.

Earlier this month, the Lewiston School Committee approved Superintendent Bill Webster’s recommendation to approve the student’s re-entry, saying the youth has worked hard to do what he needed to do to. Ali has said he has learned from his mistakes and is happy he is getting a second chance.

Several things turned his attitude and work ethic around, Ali said, including:

  • Help at the Dingley School, Lewiston’s program for suspended or expelled students that is housed in the building that holds the superintendent’s office.

  • Working 60 hours of community service at the YWCA helping in the child care program. He wanted to be a positive role model to the kids he met.

  • His parents, who never let up on him and told him the choices he’s making will determine what kind of future he has.

Ali was born in Kenya and came to Lewiston at age 10. In 2016, he was an eighth-grader at the Lewiston Middle School where he did well, Ali said.

His trouble started his freshman year. He did not like some of his classes. During the first quarter, he did well, said Ahmed Sheikh, who was Ali’s mentor at Dingley. But as his freshman year progressed Ali decided he would rather not go to class.

“I would skip, not show up,” Ali said. “I would go to the gym or play around. I felt like I could get away with it. I wasn’t taking my classes seriously.”

He would go to school each day and spend the day there, but he rarely went to class.

“The teachers would get mad,” he said.

Ali asked if he could change the classes he did not like. He was told it was too late and that he would have to wait until next semester.

His class skipping increased as the year progressed.

“He basically failed the year,” Sheikh said.

His parents were upset, “really mad,” Ali said. “It got to a point I had a meeting with the School Committee” with his parents.

The School Committee’s decision to expel him “wasn’t just based on skipping,” Sheikh said. “It was his lack of interest in being a student. He would come to school and not be a student. That was a distraction for other students.”

During the summer he was given the opportunity to go to summer school. He went for a week, then stopped. Ali explained he was so far behind in his classes, a few weeks “wouldn’t change that much. My dad would bring me there. When he left I would walk out and go to a friend’s house.”

His parents were “frustrated and mad,” the student said. “They told me, ‘This is your life. If you want to make decisions that lead you to the wrong path, it’s your decision to make.’” They asked him what kind of life he wanted.

In the fall, the expulsion meant Ali could no longer show up at the high school. That made him feel isolated, like he didn’t belong.

And “there wasn’t much to do,” he said.

Conditions for re-entry to school were that he would attend the Dingley program, receive counseling to improve behavior and perform 60 hours of community service, Webster said.

Ali went to school at Dingley.

“It was a small room with bunch of kids I had never met,” he said. “I was uncomfortable at first. Some were disrespectful to the teachers.”

It made him ask himself: “Am I like this? I didn’t want to be like that.”

He began doing the community service at the YWCA, working with 8-, 9- and 10-year-old kids.

“It changed my attitude,” he said.

Sheikh said Ali was liked by the children and staff. He wanted to be a good role model, and didn’t want to let them down.

He started taking his school work more seriously – at Dingley, online and at home.

“I worked harder to catch up,” he said.

Ali is working this month at his sophomore grade level, Sheikh said, and also working to make up his freshmen classes.

Sheikh likes the changes he sees in the student. At first, Ali considered the Dingley program “a vacation that it would be easy,” Sheikh said. In recent months “he’s matured.”

“He wanted a way back toward mainstream classes,” Sheikh said.

His grades are now a B average, Sheikh said.

Ali realizes taking the easy way out,  just getting by, doesn’t work. He’s more aware now of what he needs to do to have success.

His parents are happy with his improvements, Ali said, adding he would like a career in technology or as a mechanic.

Ali said he is nervous and excited about going back.

“I’m going to do good,” he said.

Mohamed Ali, 16, looks through an article with mentor Ahmed Sheikh on Thursday at the Dingley Building. After skipping classes much of his freshman year, breaking other rules and getting expelled, Ali has made personal changes, met re-entry requirements and is returning Monday to Lewiston High School. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

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