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Kris Clemens knew from the time she was in high school that she wanted to be a psychologist, but when her career took an unexpected turn, she found she was right where she wanted to be.Clemens, coordinator and instructor at Parsons Learning Academy, grew up in St. Paul.She graduated from Pittsburg State University with a degree in psychology, after which she went to work for the Labette Center for Mental Health Services as a case manager/attendant care worker."My first goal was to work in a prison and be a clinical psychologist, but I went on a visit to Lansing and changed my mind and wanted to work with children," she said.
At LCMHS she
worked primarily with youth and then worked up to the adult program, Rainbow's End, in mental health.She worked there for a while, but then took the position as social service coordinator at Osage Trails for RPS management.
"I did that for 2 1/2 years, but then resigned and came here.This is my fifth year with the school district.I started as coordinator of the Learning Academy
but since we reorganized to handle more high school students now, I am coordinator and instructor," Clemens
said."I never saw myself in this position, but here I am."Parsons High School's Learning Academy
was originally designed to assist high school dropouts and non-traditional students to get their high school diploma.This last year, it was reorganized to focus more on high school students struggling to acquire needed credits to graduate.Clemens
soon discovered that many of the same problems kids came to mental health for are problems that cause them to struggle in school.
"I can remember the first girls I worked with at mental health.They were 5 or 6.I heard some stories ... and I knew I would do what I could to get them through it.It stuck in my head all these years.Working with girls who have been sexually abused that has a big impact on you," Clemens
As mother to Aliyah, 7, and stepmother to Josh, 11, and as a sister with three siblings whose parents divorced in their teen years, Clemens
can relate well to many of the things her
students are going through."I am not technically their counselor, but I am here as support and a positive role model, because some of them don't have that," she said.Clemens
has guided 48 non-traditional students to their high school diplomas.
"To this day, I have former students call or come by.I even have one student in Iraq that calls me once a week," Clemens said.
worked with him daily and soon the attitude changed.
works very hard at what she
does.I knew pretty much I couldn't do anything without a high school diploma and college education and (Clemens) always stayed on top of me and never let me let down," Graham said.
Dream comes true for teenager
According to academy coordinator Kris Clemens, the program is the perfect solution for many students.
"Some kids just can't handle the regular school environment, or something happens in their life that prevents them from finishing," Clemens
said."They're all dealing with something and each kid is different, so we try to set up an individual program that works for them."
The academy offers a curriculum aligned with that at the high school, including electives.Students use a computer program called Plato to complete most of their studies, with guidance from the school's two instructors - Clemens and former PHS math teacher Steve Nutt.
In addition, Clemens
said more than 30 others who had remained in school but were lacking enough credits to graduate were able to make up their work and ultimately graduate with their classmates.
Students have even come from out-of-state to take advantage of the program.
"These are not only students from PHS.I have one from Missouri, and of course from the surrounding towns - Erie, Chetopa - they come from all over the place," Clemens