2 Cedar Knolls students say school turned their lives around

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HAWTHORNE -

Two children who attend the embattled Hawthorne Cedar Knolls School for troubled kids say it has helped turn their lives around.

The school is under fire from the surrounding community after five students were arrested in two off-campus incidents, including an alleged home invasion.

Mirian Meza, 17, says she has been hospitalized three times for severe depression. 

"I grew up with my dad being an alcoholic, being abusive," she says. "I would just...try to end my life."

She says she stopped eating, starving herself, and therapists didn't help. Then she came to Hawthorne Cedar Knolls.

"Now I'm here, trying to get back on my feet," she says.

She's one of hundreds of students with special educational and therapeutic needs. Another is Christopher Marcello, 18.

"I was suicidal for a while," he says. "I went in and out of mental institutions."

After coming to the school, he says he feels more confident and comfortable.

"We work with kids that no one else will accept," says Raymond Raefski, the principal. "They've been let down, rejected, abused -- and it's my job to develop a relationship with those kids, so they feel safe."

That work can take years, but if often works out. Most of the students go on to graduate after arriving at the school with poor grades.

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