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'Going to school in Brandon saved him'



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Julius Combs, a senior, studies at Brandon High School. Photo by Patrick McAbee. (click for larger version)
March 23, 2011 - Brandon Twp.- Beverly Combs believes sending her grandson to school here was the best thing she's ever done for him.

"Going to school in Brandon saved him," she said.

Julius Combs will graduate from Brandon High School this spring, four years after Beverly Combs enrolled him as a schools of choice student in his freshman year.

The schools of choice program has come under fire recently as some parents who live in the district complain that students from outside the district lower overall test scores, bring behavior problems and contribute to lower property values since their parents don't have to live in the district. A study session on schools of choice is planned for 6:30 p.m., March 29, at the I-TEC Center, 609 S. Ortonville Road.

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Julius lives with his grandmother in Pontiac, and he started his education there, at LeBaron Elementary. While Beverly said grade school was a great experience for Julius, his middle school years at a charter school were not. She believed sending him to the charter school, rather than the Pontiac junior high, was the lesser of two evils.

"The schools are not good in Pontiac," said Beverly. "They weren't good then, they are even worse now. The education is not good and his safety and well-being were in question... There is a certain poverty mentality in Pontiac. It's just different here, whether people want to accept it or not. I did not want that to get a hold on him. I couldn't gamble with his future in regards to his education and safety and well-being."

Julius told Beverly if he had to go to Pontiac Northern High School, he would skip school due to fear.

Because of a tragedy that happened several years ago, the family is tied to where they live, Beverly said. Moving was not an option, so when Julius was in the eighth grade in Pontiac, she began researching districts that were schools of choice, including Holly, Brandon, Oxford, and Walled Lake. She chose Brandon, saying she liked the atmosphere, although she notes that the diversity here was "not the greatest."

The decision was one of the best she has ever made and Beverly said the majority of the people are great, Julius loves school and she has nothing negative to say about the district or Ortonville. Julius has made many friends, has been on the football team for four years, played basketball, and will be on the track team this spring.

"Julius is from out of district and a young black man, and the kids voted him king of snowcoming," she said. "These kids saw him as an individual and choose whether to like or not like someone based on the individual. Children now don't have as much baggage as some of their parents or grandparents."

Julius agrees with his grandmother that going to school here has been a good experience.

"I like Brandon, I like the environment," he said. "I'm getting a great education, better than I would be if I was in Pontiac... They shouldn't stop the district from being a school of choice. Being a school of choice district allows more kids an opportunity for a good education."

Leah Reinert has also taken advantage of Brandon being a schools of choice district. The Auburn Hills resident has two children enrolled here, a daughter in seventh grade at Brandon Middle School, and a son in third grade at Belle Ann Elementary.

Reinert wasn't aware when she bought her townhouse in Auburn Hills 10 years ago that it was in the Pontiac School District, believing instead she was zoned for Avondale. Her daughter did attend elementary in Pontiac, where she said the teachers were good and supportive, but Reinert began having concerns when her daughter was in second grade.

"It's interesting that people against schools of choice bring up crowded classrooms, because my daughter's second grade classroom in Pontiac had 40 kids in it," she said. "People here, I they don't know what overcrowded is... My daughter was in tears everyday because she was overwhelmed. They added another second grade class, but it took almost the whole first semester."

Reinert also had some concerns about her daughter's academics, and the school declined to have her tested, despite the fact she was struggling with some material. Reinert knew she didn't want her daughter to attend middle school in Pontiac, but ended up moving her out of district sooner than planned. Neighbors who had children enrolled at Brandon told her about the district.

"I thought they were crazy for coming out so far, but when I found out how good it is, I decided it was worth it," Reinert said. "I'm happy with Brandon. The teachers take the time to work with students."

The district granted Reinert's request for testing, and it was discovered her daughter has attention deficit disorder, as well as a non-verbal learning disorder similar to Asperger's. She finally got the help she needed and Reinert appreciates this about Brandon.

"My kids have teachers who spend time with whoever needs it," she said. "I'm not sure they spend more time with the schools of choice kids, but I don't think my kids are less worthy, that's why I brought them out here, so they could get more attention than they were getting in Pontiac... Quite honestly, I'm concerned with the attitudes I've seen from some of the parents. I haven't seen the negative attitude trickle from parents to the kids, but I'm worried about it hanging over my head, that at any time schools of choice will be taken away and it gives me a feeling of uncertainty."

Reinert said this uncertainty, as well as a desire to have more influence over her children's environment, has led her and her husband to the decision to homeschool next year. The decision will also lessen the cost and time required to drive her children to school everyday in Brandon. Reinert has to have her daughter to school by 7:30 a.m. and her son doesn't get out of school until 3:50 p.m. She often stays in the district and volunteers her time at the school to save on her gas costs.

Beverly Combs agrees that it was a huge sacrifice to get Julius to school out here. His freshman year, she drove him out, came home, and then returned to pick him up every day. She compares it to a job in itself, but said she would do it again if she had to, adding that it is not a child's fault where he or she lives and that houses aren't selling in this economy.

"It's been a struggle and a sacrifice, a lot of gas money, but it's all been worth it," she said. "I really want other children to have the opportunity. If a parent is willing to go through what we went through to get their child to school, to get a good education, shouldn't they be able to have that? Isn't that what America is about— a good education for all children? If you don't live in an area where you can get a good education for your child, shouldn't you be able to go somewhere where you can get one?"

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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