In a class by herself

"Ashley Jane Young stood out during graduation exercises at the Whidbey Christian Elementary School Thursday night. She was the one in the cap and gown. At 14, Young was this year's solitary graduate from the tiny, 11-student, one-room school which operates out of the lower level of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Oak Harbor. She becomes the fourth student in the last three years to rise to the school's top level of eighth grade. Whidbey Christian may be small but there was no shortage of pomp and circumstance during Young's graduation ceremony. She entered in a traditional deep-blue robe and mortarboard hat to the traditional graduation march, flanked by younger, fellow students holding candles. There were songs, speeches, a commencement address, prayers and a reception. I'm here. I'm finally here, was how Young began her short but emotional graduation speech. She thanked the school for teaching her not only about science, history and math, but also about life, God and love for others. Young's mother, Nan Fullmer, said the small school, which puts kids in grades one through eight together in one classroom, has done wonders for her daughter. She said Young came to Whidbey Christian three years ago after a difficult transition to public middle school. Fullmer said her daughter needed a place where she could build both self confidence and better study skills. After meeting with the school's teacher Anita Reed, Fullmer said she knew the school was the right place for Young. The teacher is great. It's like a family more than a class, she said. Reed said Young has grown in many ways since the day she first came to the school. She had practically no self confidence. Now she's a different child. She's just blossomed, Reed said. I wish I could keep her. Young admits that being the eldest student in the multi-grade classroom has pushed her to set a good example and given her a stronger sense of responsibility. She was the only eighth-grader. The rest of the school's students are in grades one through five this year. It's tiring, she said. You have the other kids hanging on you and depending on you. Reed said she now expects Young to do well when she returns to public school at Coupeville High next fall. She leaves Whidbey Christian with an A-minus average. Young said she wants to work toward a career as an interior designer. Her mother said she also has talent in costume design and is already designing most of the costumes for a local Middle Eastern dance group. Young has also studied ballet and performed in stage productions at the Whidbey Playhouse. Whidbey Christian is a state-accredited school that has been in Oak Harbor since 1978. Students receive a Christian-based education but must also pass all state tests and educational requirements. Last year two students graduated from the school, said chairwoman Dorothy Cantrell. That was a big year, she said."

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