Trimaine Walker became a dropout around the time he became a father -- during his sophomore year of high school.
"I realize that was an excuse. I could have stayed in school," Walker told a panel of educators today during the state's annual Governor's Education Summit in East Lansing.
He's 21 and married now, but Walker is finally getting a chance to earn that coveted diploma through Widening Advancement for Youth-Washtenaw, a program that gives him the flexibility to complete his education online, anytime and anywhere he wants.
Today's summit featured more than two dozen sessions and featured speeches by a number of state officials and education experts, including Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan.
Walker was among about a dozen students from across Michigan who spoke during a discussion sponsored by Michigan's Children, which focused on flexible learning environments for students, whether they're students who dropped out like Walker or students who weren't challenged in a traditional high school environment or who wanted to take college courses.
They heard from students like Pouya Khazei, Walker's schoolmate, who described himself as slightly nocturnal.
"This allows me to do work whenever I want. I do like that you can take your time," he said.
Several of the students attend early colleges -- programs in which they earn both a high school diploma and associate's degree while taking most of their classes on a community college campus.
Jenna Schauer told the panel she will graduate in May with both degrees -- high school and associate's -- through her enrollment in the Early College of Macomb.
"I recommend it to all kids who are bored in high school," she said.
Several of the students spoke of the difficulties they faced that prompted them to drop out or being far behind in credits, including drug abuse, illnesses and difficulty adjusting in a large high school environment.
State Superintendent Mike Flanagan -- one of the experts on the panel -- told the students he was inspired by their experiences. And he urged the students to help state officials find ways to use social media to connect with students, saying there's a yearning "for hearing your voice more regularly in a ways that will help us learn."
Ball, during a keynote speech near the start of the summit, said that while there is much to be concerned about regarding the U.S. education system -- including students who are underprepared for life after high school and for life in a democracy -- she said there is reason for hope.
That reason, she said, is that "teaching matters."
Ball, who heads a state group that will come up with a model evaluation system for educators, pointed to research that shows just how much teaching matters, like one study that found that having skilled teaching three years in a row can make the difference between a student being in the top quartile in fifth-grade math and a student being in the bottom quartile.
Teaching, Ball said, "is not natural work," but instead required significant professional training.
Ball says we should not be afraid to to list things beginning teachers should be able to do before they're allowed to "drive a classroom."