Alternative program helps Stonington High student reach graduation

Stonington — Brandon Vicaire reports to his full-time job as a security guard at Foxwoods Resort Casino at midnight and works until 9 a.m. He then goes home and sleeps before reporting to Stonington High School at 2:30 p.m. for 2½ hours of classes.

Four days a week, he repeats the cycle.

It’s an unconventional way to earn a high school diploma, but little in the life of the 19-year-old — who aspires to one day run Foxwoods — has been conventional.

Adopted by Lisa Robinson Sebastian as an infant, he spent the first eight years of his life on the Mashantucket Pequot reservation. He moved to South Kingstown, R.I., where he attended Chariho schools and cared for an aunt with rapidly progressing dementia. He then lived in his native Quebec, Canada, for two years before getting an invitation from his cousin to move to Stonington in February 2016. He waited to enroll at Stonington High School until that August and managed to finish his junior year while working at the Bridge restaurant in Westerly and playing sports.

When he entered his senior year last fall, he was falling asleep in class, not keeping up with his homework and his grades were slipping due to working full time. That’s when Stonington High School Principal Mark Friese approached Vicaire about enrolling in an alternative program at the school called Stonington Academic Integrated Learning (for) Students, also known as SAILS, which allows juniors and seniors on track for graduation to take classes in the afternoon while working. They get credit for their work experience while taking core classes in English, math, science and social studies.

Between three and eight students are enrolled in the program each year and those that earn their diploma walk with their class during the graduation ceremony, which this year is June 22.

“At the start of my senior year, I didn’t think I would graduate. Being an older student, I had other responsibilities. I had to pay for bills. I was working and trying to maintain school but I couldn’t. But then I was offered SAILS,” Vicaire said.

He credits a large number of people for helping him get to this point — Friese, Assistant Principal Neal Curland, basketball coach John Luzzi, assistant basketball coach Jay Wosencroft, Bridge owner Dave Parr, and the SAILS teachers, led by Mary Lou Devine, who teach after school.

“I wouldn’t have graduated without people helping me the past two years. Mentally, I wasn’t strong enough but they supported me,” he said. “I didn’t do this myself. It wasn’t all me. If it wasn’t for everyone else helping me, I would have broke. This is one of the greatest schools I’ve ever been to.”

Friese said the program is for students for whom “regular school is not their gig” and who need to work. He said the program has a very good success rate despite there being little room for error with the condensed classes.

“They have to make every class. If you have a cold, we tell you to bring some tissues,” he said.

“We just provided Brandon with an opportunity and he has excelled. Now he’s going to walk with his class,” Friese said.

“I think every high school should have a program like this. It would decrease the dropout rate. It gives kids who have to work another option,” he said.

Vicaire, who did not meet his birth mother until he was 17, also is a member of the Mi’kmaq Indian nation. He said he would be the first member of his family to attend college.

He’s been bouncing his business ideas off a company CEO he met while working at Bridge and an online entrepreneur he has developed a friendship with.

He now plans to work for a year, improve his SAT scores and put together a plan to go to college to study business.

“I’m not scared to fail because you can always fail harder,” he said.

Vicaire said he has really enjoyed his new job with Foxwoods security, as it’s given him an inside look into how a casino works.

“My goal is to be the CEO of Foxwoods,” he said.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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