We hear a lot about superstar students this time of year — top graduates with sky-high grade-point averages who find time for band and sports and charity work.
Good for them. They deserve to be proud, and so do their parents and teachers.
But they aren't the only ones who accomplished a lot this year. Because what's more difficult, really? Speeding along on the right track, or finding your way onto it in the first place?
Jordan Blaylock, 13, said he struggled this year as a sixth-grader at Explorer K-8 School in Spring Hill.
"I didn't do my homework and my teacher got all mad at me, and I cursed her out. I cursed her out a couple of times, and she sent me to STAR," he said.
He meant STAR Academy, which teaches students at risk of dropping out or expulsion — and which seems to be going through an uncertain time.
Like nearly every other school program, it faces the possibility of budget cuts. Superintendent Wayne Alexander has said that current STAR principal John Shepherd will move to an assistant principal's job at Eastside Elementary next year; his replacement has not been named.
Alexander said he would like to see more hands-on training and more cooperation with nearby businesses at STAR, "to increase students' connection to the world of work in their education experience."
But whatever its flaws, STAR turned out to be great for Blaylock.
The teachers and administrators seemed to understand his problems. Maybe the other students did, too, he said, because they were friendlier than the kids at Explorer. He stayed out of fights and worked harder in class.
"I used to have D's and F's and now I have B's and C's," Blaylock said at the Brooksville Wal-Mart Supercenter on Friday.
He was there to spend $10, along with five other students of STAR's life skills program who had qualified for an award program created by Marion Jones, a counselor at the academy.
Jones raised $1,400 in donations to pay for outings and other incentives. The idea, he said, was to teach students the basic deal offered by our society: Good things come to people who work for it.
A lot of students at STAR don't know this, Jones said, because they've never seen many good things. For example, on an earlier trip to Golden Corral, several students told him it was their first time in a sit-down restaurant.
Blaylock doesn't have the same problems as some of his classmates. He comes from a stable home, he said, where he lives with his mother, Susan Murphy.
He's polite, well-spoken and handsome, with light brown skin and green eyes. Most people, on meeting him, probably wouldn't have guessed that he was facing a scary future.
But that's the way he saw it.
"I worried that I would keep getting in fights. I thought I might go to jail," he said.
Now, he said, he's on track to return to Explorer and advance to seventh grade. "My mom's very happy," he said.
Compared to that, the three-pack of sleeveless T-shirts that Blaylock had bought with his $10 didn't amount to much.
It was just enough to remind him of a lesson kids can never hear too often — that doing the right thing has its benefits.