Editor’s note: Every year, The Herald Journal profiles one graduating student from each valley high school. Profiled students are selected by administrators at the schools.
They say where there’s a will, there’s a way, but when Brycen Lewis entered Ridgeline High School three years ago, his will lost its way.
“I wasn’t liking the teachers or anything. I was flunking out of school,” he recalled on a recent afternoon while helping put up fence on his uncle’s small Cache Valley cattle operation. “I wasn’t going to class. I would just sluff every day and not go because I didn’t like it.”
After a semester of being miserable, Brycen decided to give alternative school a try — Cache High School, to be exact — and things began to change for the better.
He remembers feeling the change almost instantly on the first day when he had a brief encounter with teacher Zane Christensen, who as an agriculture science instructor had an immediate connection with Brycen, a kid who also knew a thing or two about farming.
“He just happened to walk past while I was registering, and ever since then, me and him have been pretty much like best friends,” Brycen said. “He has pretty much taken me in as his own. He got me into FFA, I got my state degree, and he helped me get my scholarships.”
Using those scholarships, Brycen entered the diesel-mechanic certification program at Bridgerland Tech.
The young man also got his smile back.
“That smile is contagious. It starts small then it spreads to his whole face,” Christiansen said when asked last week to say something about his student and friend.
Christensen confirms that the two have become like family, especially while working together in Future Farmers of America, where Brycen became one of the few Cache High students to ever earn an FFA degree.
“Over the past three years I have gotten to know his family and spend time with them … and my own family has spent many hours with Brycen on FFA activities. We are better off for associating with him,” Christensen said.
In addition to his penchant for agriculture, Brycen also has a mind for mechanics, and it was through Cache High that he got a scholarship to learn diesel-engine repair.
“Brycen has an excellent ability to put things together mechanically,” Christensen said. “His mind and hands work together miraculously to fix mechanical problems.”
Brycen spent a lot of time as a teenager helping out at a dairy in Millville run by his uncle, Loran Jensen, and Christensen described the sale of the dairy by the property owner last summer as a difficult time for his student. But Brycen rebounded and now works for pay at a Lewiston dairy and is helping Jensen out raising beef cattle on another piece of valley property.
Although Brycen turned around his academic career at Cache High and graduated with a 3.5 grade-point average, he never has gravitated toward traditional school subjects like math, English and history. When asked about his favorite classes at school, he responded, “To be honest, I didn’t really like any subjects. I just knew I had to go and get my stuff done. I kept pushing forward to make sure I got my grades up to be where they needed to be.”
In addition to Christensen’s influence on his school career, Brycen credits Cache High Principal Sheri Hansen as being a major motivating factor.
“I love her to death,” he said. “She is one of the best principals you can ever ask for. She cares about the students, and she’s just always there for you.” At the same time, he added, Hansen is a serious taskmaster who makes sure students get their schoolwork done and will “definitely let you know” if you’re falling behind.
Hansen had this to say about Brycen:
“He just started out really hating school, not wanting to be at school and just turned into a shining star. I mean it’s crazy the short time he was here with us (before things turned around). He’s a nice kid. He has a great work ethic. Most of it is self motivation. He went over to Bridgerland and accomplished that pathway degree on his own, and I can’t say enough good about the kid.”
Brycen hasn’t actually finished his program at Bridgerland Tech yet, but he did complete all of his high school credits before Christmas break and is on track to get his diesel mechanic certification on schedule.
Hansen said she believes the problem for Brycen and other students like him in larger, traditional high schools is the lack of personal attention.
“A lot of kids that come to us, people think it’s because of behavior, and most often it’s not behavior but that feeling of being lost in the shuffle,” she said. “Here there’s a lot more one-on-one, as it should be. That’s part of the miracle of coming to Cache High.”
Brycen said hopes to stay in Cache Valley and work as a mechanic while keeping a hand in agriculture, but he’s open to moving elsewhere.
“If the right opportunity comes along, I’d go from there and see where it takes me,” he said.