By Amaris Castillo
DRACUT -- It's easy to mistake Curtis and Brett Clark for twins. The Dracut brothers are both tall and heavily built with squinty-eyed smiles. They sometimes talk in unison and joke around often.
Curtis, though, is older at 21. Brett is 19. Physical resemblance and DNA aside, there's another factor that ties the brothers together -- their graduation on June 1 from Lowell Middlesex Academy Charter School. Academic struggles at Dracut High drove Curtis and Brett in 2014 to transfer to the public charter high school in Lowell. LMACS caters to students who have left their district high school prior to graduation and those significantly at risk of dropping out.
Curtis said he struggled in mainly math and history during his first two years at Dracut High. Then came the multimillion-dollar renovation of the school in his third year, which he said caused overcrowding in his classes.
"When I was at Dracut High, I was just falling behind on everything," Curtis recalled. "I just needed to go somewhere new."
Brett said he began struggling in his sophomore year at Dracut High.
"Because they did the construction, the classrooms had
35-40 kids and I just couldn't learn," he said. "The smaller classes at the charter school helped because I got more focused. I didn't really struggle too bad, it was just that one year I fell off and I was like, 'Yeah, I can't do that.
On top of that, several major surgeries due to health issues pulled Brett out of school for some time. Lisa Clark, Brett and Curtis' mother, says he's fine now.
Melissa Chen, a science instructor at LMACS who also served as Brett's adviser, said the younger Clark brother was always a very respectful student.
"For Brett, he never had issues academically. The times I did see him, he always did his work. He was a fantastic advisee and he was very dependable," she said. "It was just his attendance for the first couple terms that was difficult."
Chen said students are drawn to Lowell Middlesex Academy Charter School because of class size.
"Our students come with their own struggles academically and socially so we try to accommodate them the best that we can," she said. "As they get to know us and trust us and see that we do want to help them, these students are then more invested in the school."
Erika Lanier, English instructor/ELL coordinator at LMACS, had the Clark brothers in her classes.
"Curtis was quiet and respectful. He took a little bit to get used to me as a teacher," Lanier said. "When students come to us, they don't always have good experiences in previous schools. He (Curtis) has a crazy sense of humor. They're both fabulous kids."
Lanier said the Clark brothers have similar personalities and they would often play off each other.
"There were so many times I would say something and they would both respond together and I'd be like, 'How are you not twins?'" she recalled with a laugh.
Case in point: the Clark brothers' recent sit-down interview with The Sun. When asked what it meant to graduate together, Brett and Curtis responded "It was really cool, yeah." The brothers erupted in laughter.
"Graduating felt awesome," Brett said. "It felt like I finally got something off my back because I was a year late."
When people read this story, Curtis said he wants them to see how much charter schools can help students who need it.
"If they're in a big school, they don't feel comfortable because it's a big class or they're just doing bad in school or they need a new place, that charter schools help you get through it all," he said. "They legit look out for you and make sure that you pass your classes and stay on top of you."
Both would like to continue their education at Middlesex Community College.
On June 1, the Clark brothers donned black graduation robes with golden yellow chords. Their mother, Lisa, said seeing her sons graduate together made her so proud.
"It made me know that they have the strength to reach the goal that they didn't know that they would be able to achieve," she said. "I'm so thankful that they fought their way through every challenge. Every parent's dream is, and should be, that their child excel and just reach every goal that they go for."
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.