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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF Taylor June (left) is congratulated by Mike Poore, Bentonville school superintendent, on Thursday during the Gateway graduation at Arend Arts Center on the Bentonville High School campus. For photo galleries, go to nwadg.com/photos.

BENTONVILLE -- Taylor June had zero class credits to her name and no formal education to speak of less than two years ago.

On Thursday, however, the 19-year-old was one of 44 students honored at the Arend Arts Center during a graduation for Gateway, the district's alternative learning school. Through a combination of the fast-paced Gateway program, online classes and other courses at Bentonville High, June crammed into two years what most students take four to do.

Graduation schedule

Each of the biggest high schools in Northwest Arkansas will hold their graduation ceremonies next week at Bud Walton Arena on the University of Arkansas campus. Here is the schedule of those events:

• Fayetteville High School: 7 p.m. Thursday

• Rogers High School: 5 p.m. May 15

• Heritage High School: 8 p.m. May 15

• Bentonville High School: 8:45 a.m. May 16

• Springdale High School: 1 p.m. May 16

• Har-Ber High School: 4 p.m. May 16

Source: Staff report

And she compiled a 4.2 grade point average while doing it.

The rate at which June tore through high school stunned the educators who got to know her.

"We have all enjoyed the success of Taylor June," said Eric Hipp, a Bentonville High School assistant principal who oversees Gateway. "Her story makes you feel like you're doing the right thing."

Greg Puckett, Bentonville High teacher, had June in his advanced placement psychology class this school year, one of two advanced courses June took. Puckett called her one of the best students he's ever worked with. Her attitude toward school is "100 percent positive," he said.

June spent her childhood in Texas living with her mother and grandparents. She described an unstable life spent in poverty, moving from one place to another. She even briefly lived in her family's minivan. The adults in her life never sent her to school, she said.

"Technically, I was home-schooled," she said.

As she approached adulthood, she realized she needed a change. She moved to Bella Vista in 2012 to live with her father and stepmother. She didn't intend to go to school; the thought "terrified" her, she said. She eventually enrolled in Gateway in the fall of 2013 at the suggestion of a family member.

"I cried for, like, four weeks before going in," June said.

Some other Gateway students have tried to adopt the same kind of aggressive course load June took on, but they often must scale back, Hipp said.

"What we typically see is they're trying to do so much, it paralyzes them," Hipp said. "And so we begin to look at a longer timetable."

That wasn't necessary for June, who said she inquired from the start about whether it was possible to finish in two years.

"And they said, 'Technically, it is,'" she said.

June's lack of experience in a school forced her to adjust to new things quickly. Group projects were especially challenging.

"I had no idea how to do a group project. I was like, what's the point?" she said.

June will enroll at the University of Arkansas this fall, where she will study pre-medicine with the goal of becoming a psychiatrist.

"I think the first year I'll just go at the normal pace, and see how it goes," she said.

It's clear she's not going to stop working.

"I'm still trying to prove to myself I'm smart," she said.

The Gateway program started on Bentonville High's campus in 2008. Officials moved the program into its own facility on Southeast 14th Street in 2013. Gateway offers small-class settings and alternative methods for students who have trouble learning in a traditional way.

The School Board, in recognition of what Gateway does for its students, decided last year to expand the program's capacity from 60 to 90 students.

The Gateway students honored during Thursday's ceremony also will be invited to participate in the regular graduation ceremony for Bentonville High's class of 2015 next week. Several Gateway graduates told stories of how they overcame difficult life circumstances or poor decisions to obtain their diplomas.

Breanna Swadley, 18, had a baby at age 15. She used to use marijuana and drink alcohol, she said.

"I wasn't a good person," Swadley said, fighting back tears. "Now I feel like I have my life together."

Michael Poore, district superintendent, told the graduates each one has demonstrated grit in working their way through various challenges.

"You're all really wired for brilliance," Poore said. "I look forward to watching you go out into the community and do wonderful things."

NW News on 05/08/2015

Print Headline: Bentonville graduate, 19, finishes high school in two years

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