From almost-dropout to success story with a smile

Virtual Learning school helps OHS student earn a diploma and job skills

TORRIN NICNEVEN (front) was joined by his co-workers at McDonald’s in Fredonia, where he is a shift manager. Attending Wisconsin Virtual Learning online school allowed Nicneven to work full-time and do his schoolwork at night. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press Staff

About a year ago, Torrin Nicneven had just turned 18, was completing his junior year at Ozaukee High School and was ready to drop out of school.

A year later, after he was convinced to enroll in the Wisconsin Virtual Learning online academy, he owns a high school diploma, is a shift manager at the McDonald’s restaurant in Fredonia and is plans to pursue a career in pharmaceutical research or as a pharmacist.

Nicneven was among 53 students who graduated from Wisconsin Virtual Learning, a Northern Ozaukee School District charter school whose commencement was held a week after Ozaukee High School students held theirs.

“Oh my god, I was so happy I couldn’t sleep” the night before graduation, he said.

His troubles with a “brick-and-mortar” school began when at five years old he was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiance disorder, which makes him resistant to authority figures. 

“That’s the one that gives me the most trouble,” Nicneven said. “You feel like you’re always right. In its basic form, you don’t want anyone else to be right, like they’re above you, like your dungeon master,” referencing the game Dungeons and Dragons. 

Nicneven said he’s able to control those feelings more now. For instance, he initially refused to be interviewed by a reporter for this article but quickly changed his mind and easily articulated his feelings.

“I know it’s there, and I can push it back,” he said.

However, one of the main reasons for wanting to drop out of school, Nicneven said, was his hyperactivity.

“It isn’t too severe, but it just makes me more scatterbrained. With so many people,  there were too many distractions, and at the end of the day I got nothing done,” he said.

His condition and medications also give him insomnia as a side effect, which also interfered with the more regimented style of learning at a brick-and-mortar school.

When Nicneven shared his feelings and intentions to drop out with his parents and school staff, who had worked with him throughout his academic career, “the counselors directed me straight to WVL,” he said.

“He really needed to do his schooling in a way that worked for him,” said his mother, Jessica Hawk. “With WVL, he was able to do online schooling at his own pace but still had support at their end and, if he had questions, he could go into the brick and mortar.”

What worked for Nicneven was to start working full time at McDonald’s and do most of his school work at night.

Not that it was easy.

“He really committed to working,” said WVL counselor Matt Olson, who has an office in the NOSD complex. “We hit a couple rocky spots along the way, but we were able to bring him and his family in and work those out. I worked directly with him. I called him regularly. It wasn’t a set-it-and-forget-it situation.”

Hawk credited Olson for her son’s success.

“Matt Olson really deserves a lot of credit for getting him to stay with it,” she said.

WVL Executive Director Mike Leach recently told Northern Ozaukee School Board members there were 13 students, including Nicneven, who would have left NOSD due to academic issues but stayed because they were able to transfer to WVL.

WVL enrollment, pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, totaled about 330 students this past year. This summer, more than 100 students are expected to take summer school courses, including physical education, through WVL.

In addition, 71 OHS students took online courses through WVL to either advance more quickly through their course work or help them to get up to speed with their classmates.

“The online system offers flexibility for students to follow an accelerated course of instruction or a credit recovery option for students who are lagging,” Leach said.

In addition, many NOSD teachers are able to supplement their income by teaching online, helping the district to retain those teachers, officials said.

When WVL started in 2004, there were only a handful of online schools in the state, Leach said.

“Now there are 42,” he said. “Online learning has become a viable option, especially with kids not having success in a traditional brick-and-mortar setting.”

While many students who attend WVL live in local communities such as Fredonia, Belgium, Cedar Grove, Campbellsport. Hartford, Port Washington, Mequon and West Bend, many others live from Milwaukee to Brillion and from Kenosha to Stevens Point.

When Nicneven attended his commencement, he got to meet many students he knew only from online discussions.

“So when we came into the ceremony, no one knew each other,” he said. “We were like fresh friends.”

Nicneven excelled in science in school, his mother said, and hopes to study pharmaceutical science.

But first he’s going to keep working at McDonald’s and save his money for college while he thinks about his goals.

“I’m kind of decisive,” he said. “I think I’ll take my time to think about it. Most kids go to college not really knowing what they want to do.”



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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