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Miller takes alternative path to success

Elysa Miller is a reminder that education is not always a one-size-fits-all experience.

After transferring between Red Wing High School and Hastings High School for a couple years, Miller made the switch February to Red Wing's Tower View Alternative High School -- and she never looked back.

Miller, who graduated this spring, said learning at Tower View meant more independence and the opportunity to graduate ahead of other students.

"I wanted a different setting and to try something new," said Miller, admitting that she had grown disillusioned with the traditional high school environment.

Her journey to Tower View started eight years ago after the death of her mother from pancreatic cancer. Miller said she moved around a lot after that, staying with her grandmother and aunts.

When times got tough, Miller said it was the memory of her mother that helped keep her in school.

"I was motivated to make her proud," she said.

After a friend told her about Tower View at the Anderson Center, Miller said she was intrigued by the concept of the school.

Part of the Red Wing School District, Tower View is for students age 16 to 21 who are having difficulty adapting to high school or have dropped out, according to its website. The curriculum focuses on independent and small-group learning.

"It takes a special breed of student," Miller said. "Don't think you can go there and just get away with anything. You have to be motivated."

From the start, teacher Jamie Lorentzen said he knew Miller had the determination necessary to succeed at Tower View.

"I'll never forget her handshake," said Lorentzen, recalling the first time he met Miller when she interviewed to transfer. "It was sturdy and full of confidence."

Miller said Lorentzen's English class was her most memorable experience at Tower View, especially during casual discussions of literature and current events.

"He really connected with students," she said.

Likewise, Lorentzen said he enjoyed having Miller in his class, adding that she wasn't afraid to tactfully quiet down students who chose to talk during silent reading time.

"She's just a kind and respectful person," Lorentzen said.

Flexible schedules and individualized instruction at Tower View allow students to learn at their own pace. For Miller, that pace was fast.

"High school flew by for me," Miller said. "It still hasn't sunk in that I'm done."

Miller said her goal at Tower View was to graduate as quickly as possible and to begin preparing to start National Guard basic training in August.

"I knew I wanted to do something better with my life, and the Guard would open up a lot of opportunities for me," Miller said.

Lorentzen said he has known several students who considered going into the military after graduation, and that he sometimes questioned if it would work out -- but not with Miller.

"The military requires a special kind of confidence and determination," Lorentzen said, "and she has it."

Class of 2013

What: Around 220 students graduating from Red Wing High School

When: 7 p.m. Friday June 7

Where: RWHS athletic field (weather permitting)

More info: 651-385-4600

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

(651) 301-7875