Open School Changed and Saved my Life

Open School Changed and Saved my life.

By John S Jackson

John S Jackson (JJ) and son Sebastian Mason-Jackson


It was the mid 1970’s and I was an angry kid with a chip on my shoulder, using physical aggression as a way to express my inner most deep depression about what was going on in my home life. I had been kicked out of four elementary schools in the St. Paul School District and sent to Behavioral Learning Center, a level 5 EBD (Education Behavior Disorder) school for boys.

My mom was told that if I couldn’t get my physical aggression under control while at the Behavioral, the district would be forced to expel me from being educated in the St. Paul Public Schools, and my mother would have to home school me or move me to another district. It seemed as though all of the adults in my life had given up on me, telling my mom that I was on the road to a life of incarceration or institutionalism.

However, my principal at the Behavioral Learning Center (Dr. Shirley Pearl) suggested that my mom look at sending me to St. Paul Open School, an alternative education learning environment that tailored leaning strategies to the individual student.  This was my last hope for making a positive change in my life and getting the education that has made me the person I am today. Dr. Pearl reached out to Harold Pearl her husband who was the Social Worker at Open School at the time and the tour was set.

I remember taking the tour and sitting through the interview with Harold Pearl, Lennie Augustine, Vaughn Koenig (my first advisor) and my mom. No matter how angry and obstinate I tried to portray myself at the time of the interview/tour. I immediately felt the teachers’ genuine desire to want to try to assist me with learning more positive ways to deal with my emotional dysregulation and their desire to assist me with receiving a quality education that later in life has served me well.

There were many teachers throughout my  5 years at Open school who made a positive change in my life and didn’t give up on me: Joe Nathen, Wendell Carroll; Wayne Jennings, Joan Sorenson, John Gross, Jean Thomas and Kenneth Oswald  (just to name a few). They took a chance on me and helped me to learn skills needed to become a productive person in society.

This school saved and changed my life and kept me from going down a dark path that could have led to a life behind bars, or in an institution or worse, death.

For this I am truly grateful and blessed that Open School was there for me and many others in the darkest days of our lives. Thank you

Because of the support, encouragement and investment I received the dedicated staff at SPOS. I was proud to be able to come on staff in the 80’s as a music teacher and talent show coordinator. I was the first in my family to graduate with my BS in Human Services and have been working for the past 36 years helping children and adults with behavioral and mental health barriers.


John S Jackson (JJ)