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Twilight Academy senior begins realizing potential

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Lindsay Ruebens - lruebens@charlotteobserver.com
Brandon Moser, 18, has made his principal at Twilight Academy, Sheila Ijames, proud: “I never would’ve thought that he is or would be the young man beside me right now.”

Brandon Moser, 18, sports dreadlocks and is currently savoring a Walt Whitman book. He’s a soft-spoken, quiet leader who attends high school in the afternoons and evenings. For him, college isn’t immediately on the horizon.

In a word, Brandon, a senior in the inaugural year of a program called Twilight Academy through Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, is nontraditional. And he’s having his best school year since his elementary days.

His history with school has been rocky: Brandon was a good student until he entered middle school, he said. That’s when he began hanging with the “wrong crowd.” Doing well in school wasn’t cool, he said, and as he transitioned into Garinger High, he was often bored. “I fell off from learning,” he said.

With the exception of history, Brandon was failing, but he’d be promoted to the next grade anyway, by scoring well on End-of-Grade standardized tests.

He was surprised when, as a junior, he looked into the Twilight Academy at Vance High. CMS began this high school alternative program this year, offering more support and smaller classes, held only in the afternoons and evenings. He saw a higher level of respect between students and teachers, he said, and he liked the idea of individualized help. He was in.

That meant leaving behind an old mindset. He’s seen friends go in and out of jail, and he didn’t want that to happen to him. “It all came together gradually, but surely,” Brandon said. “I’m about to start needing a job, and I can’t do all this childish stuff anymore.”

The first lesson, to his chagrin, was learning to pull up saggy pants. But after teachers talked to him about perceptions and why it’s important, he was convinced.

Twilight Principal Sheila Ijames said she asked teachers at the beginning of the school year about standouts. “His name would always come up,” she said. “ ‘The kid I’m always telling to pull up his pants?’ ” she remembers thinking, incredulous. But true to the old adage, she learned she couldn’t judge Brandon by his dreads or the height of his belt buckle.

“He doesn’t look the part,” Ijames said, smiling.

Brandon has begun reading: He likes 19th-century literature and, lately, has been reading a lot of poetry. Though he once failed biology, he’s now doing well in it. “Now I’m actually learning what homeostasis is.”

He spends a lot of time thinking, he said, about life and the world around him. Brandon said he would like to see other young black men who are struggling in school not be afraid to use their heads and have “grown conversations” with adults about the future.

Ijames raved about his writing, and Brandon said he plans to write a book about his mother’s life.

For now, Brandon wants to find a job upon graduation this June – he’s eyeing work as a tattoo artist – because he said he’s looking forward to a break from school. Ijames wants to see him go to college someday.

More than anything, Brandon wants to make his mother proud. Before this school year, he knows he didn’t give her much to brag about: “She wouldn’t talk about my grades, she’d talk about my personality.”

Now, said Ijames, Brandon passed every first-semester class “with flying colors” – all A’s and B’s.

“This young man has it going on.”

Ruebens: 704-358-5294; Twitter: @lruebens
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