McNary senior went from fighting to being an anchor for classmates

RonniLynn Anderson, 18, a Class of 2022 McNary High School graduate (Courtesy/RonniLynn Anderson)

This article is part of a series of profiles of Class of 2022 graduates.

RonniLynn Anderson started high school at Roberts, Salem’s alternative school which had about two dozen students in her program.

Halfway through freshman year, she went from the small program to McNary High School in Keizer and was suddenly surrounded by hundreds of people. It was overwhelming.

“I didn’t want to come back to school. I’d literally cry in the corner,” she said.

Anderson, 18, was sent to Roberts in middle school after getting in a fight at Houck, her neighborhood middle school.

“I was a troubled kid. I don’t know how to explain it,” she said.

At first, she continued the same patterns at McNary.

“When I first came here, I was like, ‘I’m gonna do whatever it takes to go back to Roberts,’” she said. “And then I was like, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ Because I want to graduate from a regular high school.”

Anderson is now graduating from McNary with school honors recognizing her growth over the past four years. She won the school’s turnaround award, given to a student who transforms their grades or behavior over the course of high school, and the anchor award, recognizing a student with significant accomplishments over the course of their time at McNary. 

“She was a kid that just had kind of a rough start to her high school career as a freshman, didn’t make always the best decisions that would put her in a position to be successful,” said Erik Jespersen, McNary principal. Now, she’s “continued to evolve her senior year,” he said. ”I know she’s proud of herself and we’re certainly proud of her.”

At McNary, Anderson in her sophomore year began attending class at the school’s emotional growth center. It’s a program for students who struggle with emotional disturbance and behavior, focused on helping them learn skills to better regulate their emotions and cope with anxiety.

Kyle McGrath, the center’s teacher at McNary, said Anderson came in with significant anxiety.

“She didn’t feel like she could go to class without a support staff member with her. She didn’t think she could navigate the halls without a staff member with her,” he said.

She was reserved around her classmates and people she didn’t know well.

Anderson said McGrath helped her adjust, attending classes with her, and even sitting through her classes when she wasn’t there so he could help her with the material later.

Over the course of high school, McGrath said she’s grown more mature and more willing to engage and help others. She’ll now mentor younger students, sharing with them how she developed skills to cope with school or regulate her behavior.

Earlier this school year, a classmate in the emotional growth center died. Anderson and her peers attended the funeral.

“She went around to each of the EGC students and just checked in with them: ‘Are you ok?’” McGrath recalled. “To see her outside of the school building interacting with her peers and kind of being that shoulder to cry on type of person was really cool to see.”

“Here’s a kid that was like this nurturing, caring, almost adult figure to some of her classmates, which was another layer of what’s so impressive about her. I’ve seen her mature and develop in ways that are extraordinary,” Jespersen said.

When Anderson started high school, she said her grades were mostly Ds and Cs.

“D equals diploma, is what I thought,” she said.

As she’s grown more comfortable, she’s improved to mostly Bs.

Anderson works as an in-home caregiver for a woman with dementia, a job she enjoys because she’s able to help people.

She thought about becoming a labor and delivery nurse after high school, but rejected the idea because of the amount of college required.

“I’m not going back to school for eight years,” she said with a laugh.

Instead, she plans to attend Chemeketa Community College in the fall and work toward becoming an ultrasound technician. She hopes to focus on pregnancy, not the other medical uses for ultrasound.

“It’s a guaranteed job because everyone gets pregnant,” she said.

Anderson said she’s happy with how high school turned out.

“I don’t regret anything I did because, you know, that made me the person I am today,” she said. “I’m a lot more caring nowadays.”

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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