Alie's aspirations: ALC student dreams of being famous someday
WORTHINGTON -- It's a typical day at school for Alie Paine -- well, almost a typical day.
Two things have changed her routine: She's telling her life story to a writer from the newspaper, excusing her from the last class of the day; and it's her 18th birthday. Halfway through the interview, she's surprised by her boyfriend, Heath, and his mom, who bring her a flurry of hugs and birthday wishes, a bouquet of flowers and cupcakes.
Other than that, Alie expects the rest of the day to be uneventful.
"I'll just go home and do what I usually do -- absolutely nothing," she said with a shrug.
Alie is a student at District 518's Area Learning Center, located in the former West Elementary School Building. As she sits in the privacy of a currently unused classroom, Alie explains some of the circumstances that brought her to the alternative school.
"I lived with my Mom until I was age 5," Alie said. "Apparently I lived in Worthington when I was very young, with my mom and my brother in a yellow house by the high school. I recently found that out. I do remember that while we were living there, one time my hair caught on fire. I was dancing around the living room in a jogging suit that my dad had sent me, and I backed up into a candle. My mom didn't have time to get the fire extinguisher, so she had to slap by head with her hands to put the fire out."
When her mom suffered some financial difficulties, Alie and her brother went to live with some relatives. Then her mom remarried, and the family was reunited in South Sioux City, Neb.
"I was an average student," said Alie. "I wasn't too interested in school. I thought I'd end up dropping out or just getting by. When you're in junior high, it's like nothing's real, like a fantasy life. It was all about friends or boys."
Alie now lives with her grandmother, Betty Paine, in Worthington. Her brother, Darin, is a year younger and lives with relatives in Colton, S.D. Her mom still lives in South Sioux City and drives up to see her kids whenever possible.
"I didn't like my stepdad," Alie explained about how her current living situation came about. "He tried to control me and my brother. I didn't like being bossed around. I guess I had rebellion issues. This girl attacked me on the last day of school, and I told my mom it was because she wanted me to be in a gang. I didn't want to break my mom's heart and tell her I didn't like my stepdad."
Alie was already accustomed to spending summers in Worthington, working as a housekeeper at the same motel where her grandmother worked.
"She suggested that I come live with her," Alie said. "It's nice. She pretty much lets me do what I want to, lets me go see my boyfriend as long as I ask. The only thing she requires is that I let her know where I am. It's all good as long as she can get ahold of me."
At first, Alie attended classes at Worthington High School, but she wasn't motivated, and Alie felt overwhelmed.
"I wasn't really doing my work," she admitted. "I got behind in my work. I guess I'm a procrastinator. ... I can't pay attention. I love to read, but I can't read something that doesn't interest me. They said 'Either you go to the ALC or you drop out. You're not allowed here until you get your grades up.'"
Alie had her own doubts about attending the ALC.
"I had heard everything was bad here, that the kids were evil, that there were fights all the time," she said. "Some people say that it's just a school for (stupid) kids."
But Alie discovered for herself that the things she'd heard weren't true, and she adjusted quickly to the ALC environment.
"I think there are more fights at the high school," she said. "Everybody here is a lot nicer, and we have a lot more freedom here. There are not very many people who hate each other. Everybody gets along. I think it's harder to be mean to people in a smaller environment. ... I was so stressed out when I went to the high school, trying to deal with friends, boyfriends, homework. I think it's a lot less stressful. I know I learn a lot more here. I got all As and one B just last quarter, which is pretty good, especially because I had all Fs before."
Alie's current curriculum includes two independent studies, earth science, journalism, culture through art and human development.
"That's all about babies being born, that kind of stuff," she said about the last class, which included a film about childbirth. "It's so disgusting, but I still want to be a mom eventually. I want to get married when I'm 23 and have a kid when I'm 25. I decided those were pretty good ages. That's always been my plan, and I'm going to stick to it."
As she candidly expresses her hopes, dreams and insecurities, Alie hints at additional impediments to learning, including some self-esteem issues.
"I have OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). I haven't had it checked out, but I know I do," she said. "Everything I have has to be organized a certain way. I have ADD (attention deficit disorder), too, so it's hard for me to pay attention. I was taking Ritalin for a while. I'm doing better with it now. I mostly pay attention.
"I put myself down a lot," she continued. "But I think people like me because I'm weird. One thing I do like about myself is I acknowledge my own flaws. I admit when something's wrong with me. ... I criticize a lot, really badly. But I like that about me. I like expressing my opinions. I have many of them."
Alie met her boyfriend, Heath, who lives in Okabena, when he attended the ALC last year in order to get his grades up. He eventually returned to his regular school and graduated. Now, he works at a restaurant in Windom and is forming a band with a friend. He and Alie see each other mostly on weekends.
Music is something they both enjoy -- Heath plays guitar, and Alie likes to write songs and sing.
Music is also at the heart of Alie's BIG dream. She wants to be a singer, but she also has a very big obstacle to overcome if she has any hope of achieving that dream.
"Most people think it's unreasonable, but I want to be famous when I get older," she shared "But I have stage fright really bad. I have to get over that before I can get famous. It takes some coaxing to get me to sing in front of people. I love karaoke. The first couple of songs, I'm shaking, but after that, I'm fine, and I actually like to show off."
Alie is slated to graduate from the ALC in March.
"School for me is not just a place for learning. It's a place to see my friends everyday," she said. "It's going to be so weird, especially since I'm going to have to get a job. No school to occupy my day, so I'll have to figure out things to do. I don't want to move too far away from my grandma, but I do want to be on my own.
"I'm going to try to write as many songs as I can, make CDs of them and send them out to as many record companies as possible. If that doesn't work out, I guess I'll just have some random job for the rest of my life and get over it."