- Associated Press - Saturday, June 4, 2016

EDGEWATER, Md. (AP) - Holly Bond said she was bullied at South River High School after she told her classmates she’s a lesbian.

The bullying, coupled with family drama and mental health problems, made her bedridden with anxiety. Her grades plummeted from chronic absence.

“The torment was awful,” she said. “They didn’t understand.”

During her sophomore year, she transferred to South River High Evening School, a program for students who work during the day, need extra help, got in trouble in day school or who couldn’t succeed in a conventional school setting. They see evening school as a second chance at graduation.

With smaller classes and tolerant peers, Bond pulled her grades back up.

Her graduation at Severna Park High School marked the county school system’s 49th Evening High School graduation, with about 80 students graduating and approximately 60 students in maroon and white gowns participating in the ceremony.

The auditorium erupted in loud cheers, with some in attendance rising to their feet, as graduates walked across the stage. Smart phones poked above the crowd in the mostly packed auditorium.

“For a lot of kids, if they didn’t go to evening school, they would have dropped out,” said Nelson C. Horine, evening school principal.

Evening school runs from the afternoon to the evening with about 500 students each semester across six campuses.

Jesse Reiger, a school administrator, said some students get distracted by their friends and social drama in day school. In a smaller, evening school setting, where the average class size is about 10 people, students are more focused on their school work and can get more help.

In Bond’s class of “all kinds of misfits, I was Holly. I wasn’t my label,” she said. With fewer students, she got more attention from teachers.

Bond said she plans to attend Anne Arundel Community College in the fall and transfer to Towson University in two or three years to study finance and marketing. Her goal is to own her own gym.

Three years ago, 18-year-old Bond didn’t think she would be on track to turn her passion for fitness and health into a career.

“I didn’t see myself making it to my 18th birthday, I didn’t see myself graduating,” she said.

Bond crops her hair short and has tattoos on her arm. “Kindness” is printed on her left arm, above an equality symbol and a Christian cross. A blue diamond is printed on her right arm. She’s connected with people in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community.

“I learned to accept myself, not pick at my flaws,” she said. “I wouldn’t be any other way. It feels good to be different sometimes.”

Her family all got help and became closer with each other, she said.

Despite her personal growth, Bond said she was nervous about walking across the stage to get her diploma.

“I’m still scared of people looking at me and thinking is that a boy or girl? The subconscious whispers,” she said.

But she’s no longer scared to get out of bed and work toward her future.

Eighteen-year-old Dominick Leone was also failing at South River before transferring to the evening school.

A toxic relationship, early start times and packed classes distracted him from his school work, he said.

Leone said he was “getting lazy, tired and distracted by every little thing possible.”

After moving to evening school, away from his social drama, he saw his grades rise to the top.

He’s not sure what he wants to do next. He might want to join the military, go to college or design video games.

For now, he’s celebrating his achievement.

“Graduation was a huge struggle,” he said. “I’m just happy it’s all over.”

___

Information from: The Capital, https://www.capitalgazette.com/

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