SHERIDAN — Corrin LaMere was ready to drop out of high school by the end of her junior year at Tongue River High School. Fast forward one year, she will graduate from John C. Schiffer Collaborative School as valedictorian of her class.

LaMere attributes her change of course largely to Schiffer’s strong, welcoming and supportive community — a stark contrast to racial discrimination she said she experienced from peers at her previous school.

“It got to the point where I didn’t have any friends anymore, because my friends were the ones that were…being discriminatory toward my race,” LaMere said.

Even with supportive teachers, the emotional impact of discrimination toward herself and other Native Americans interfered with her academics to the point she no longer wanted to attend school.

At Schiffer, she has found even with unique differences between her peers and staff, everybody is there for a reason.

Principal Mike Swan described LaMere as an “outstanding student” who has been engaged in numerous activities throughout the year and maintains a “bright and enthusiastic attitude” every day. She is the ideal candidate to show what Schiffer represents, he said.

Making the switch to an alternative school format was an uneasy transition, but she found a place among caring staff.

LaMere said teachers focus on their students as individuals who may have encountered their own challenges with academic history, living circumstances or cultural background but nonetheless seek their own form of success.

Despite a rocky start to her high school experience, she re-embraced her education at Schiffer and will graduate with 15 college credits on her way to a mortuary science degree at Fort Lewis College.

“That’s exactly what they want you to do at Schiffer, is they’ll take you from having no hope for your education or for your future to really wanting to chase your education and wanting to be successful,” LaMere said.

For post-graduation plans, Schiffer’s internship program led her to one at Kane Funeral Home and Champion Funeral Home, which solidified her interest in becoming a mortician.

As someone who not only can stomach the duties of a mortician but finds fascination in the work, LaMere feels obligated to use her sturdiness to help others.

Over the course of the year, the more she talked about her passion for the work and what she learned through the internship, the more her family got on board with her planned profession.

“That’s what we do in the funeral service, we help people when they’re in a state of grief,” LaMere said.

She is well aware of the common characterization of Schiffer students. LaMere said based on her experience, labeling herself or her peers “bad kids” or “druggies” is bizarre. A traditional learning environment simply doesn’t work for every student.

She enjoyed earning credits and exhibiting learning through projects instead of standardized tests.

For a social studies class, she focused on the American Indian movement. She presented a timeline of the movement in her Native American regalia.

The project holds a special place in her memory, partly as a response to the discrimination she experienced before taking the risk to try an alternative approach to education — a risk that offered her a place to thrive.