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Chris Mayes, an 11th-grader at Community High School in Swannanoa, N.C.
Chris Mayes, an 11th-grader at Community High School in Swannanoa, N.C. Credit: Magdalena Slapik for The Hechinger Report

How would you describe your school?

I’ve been going here for two years. Most people assume this school is the bad kids’ school, which I think is stupid, because it’s not. I was at Owen High School, and it wasn’t a good fit for me. I felt lost at Owen, and I would get in a lot of trouble there just to get attention. I got kicked out of a class there because the teacher wouldn’t pay no attention to me, and every time I did something wrong, she would get mad and write me up. Then when I would do something by accident she’d write me up again, and I would get in even worse trouble. They turned it into a big ol’ deal. It was bad.

I’m gay. This is such a small little redneck town, as my mom would say. She worries for me every day. She says, “It’s going to be a hard life for you.” I used to just deny everything. Now that I’m open with it, I feel better and more like myself. I was harassed at Owen. I was bullied so bad. Someone told me to go kill myself, and they handed me razor blades. But, here, people are like, “Oh. That’s pretty cool. You’re just you. You don’t have to be labeled. You’re not gay Chris, or straight Chris, or Chris with the curly hair. You’re just Chris.”

What do you plan to do after you graduate from high school?

I want to go to college because I’ll be one of the first people in my family to go to college. I think it’s gonna be a further step into me having a career in life and me doing something with my life. I don’t want to die in the same town I grew up in. I think that’s kind of sad because that’s what happens to most people around here. They’ll graduate high school, and then they’ll go to some job they hate going to every day. Me, I want to go to a job I love every day.

I want to be a cosmetologist or an actor. I think I’d be great at both of those. I love doing hair, and makeup has always been my passion. I did my own prom makeup, and I got so many compliments.

My mom got her high school diploma while she was pregnant. She’s always done everything for her kids. My father, he didn’t even get to high school. He got out of school when he was in sixth grade, so he barely has a sixth-grade reading level, and he can’t really read. It’s very frustrating. If I’m doing something for school, he’ll be like, “Why are you doing that?” I’ll be like, “Because I’m trying to graduate.” He’s like, “Oh. It doesn’t matter. Look at me. I’m fine.” I’m like, “You’re not fine. You’re just dumb and ignorant and you’re going to stay that for the rest of your life because you had the chance to get a free education, and you didn’t.”

What makes your school unique?

Our little Community High School. We’re all a big family here. What our school does well is they have no tolerance for bullying. Our guidance counselors are so cool. If I just want to talk to someone, they’re there, and they don’t judge. The teachers are good. I think our education system should be more like it is here. We’re just more open here. They’re kinder here. I feel like I’m learning better, the environment’s nicer and I just feel more welcomed in the morning.

Who is your favorite teacher and why?

I love Ms. Fisher to death. That’s my favorite teacher. She’s so open and honest and real with people. She’s not the normal teacher. You know, like, “Oh. Here’s your work. Go away.” She’ll sit down and help you, and she’ll let you do what you need to do to get it done. She don’t take no for an answer.

Two weeks ago, I had a full-on breakdown, and Ms. Fisher was late to her eye appointment because she sat and talked to me. It makes me feel like I’m not just another kid trying to get by. It’s not just, “Oh, you’re at school. We have no choice to have you here.” It’s, “Hey. We wanted you here, and we’re glad you’re here.”

Chris Mayes was interviewed on 2/2/17. Student interviews were carried out during the 2015-2016, 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years. Posted grade levels are the grade the students were in when they were interviewed.  

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