2018-05-16 / News

‘You can do it’: alternative ed meets students’ needs

BY MARGARET WHITMER
Reporter

CARSONVILLE — Jim Stewart, principal of Carsonville-Port Sanilac High School, is proud of his alternative education program.

Of the 18 seniors enrolled this year, 11 are graduating - or about two-thirds.

That is an improvement over last year, when only one-third graduated.

Something - Stewart believes - must be working.

And he believes that is worth crowing about.

"We are real proud of how well kids are doing in the program," he said. "CPS is thrilled that our success rate with students seems to have doubled."

He believes that the program's success lies in meeting the students where they are.

The challenges faced by the 40 high school students enrolled in the program this year are far greater than those faced by most and those challenges must be taken into account.

Some struggle with difficult family situations. Some - both girls and boys - already have families of their own and either must work or cannot afford a babysitter. Others simply failed to thrive in a traditional classroom setting.

Alternative education provides individualized programs for each student, based upon their individual strengths, wants and needs.

"Everyone is in a different place, a different chapter, a different subject," said lead teacher Luann Maher. "Certified teachers come in every day to provide help."

Alternative ed students are, often out of necessity, moving targets.

"Some are here from eight to three," she said. "A few are here part of the day, then go to the Career Center for job training. Some we hardly see at all because they're already working and have to do homework in the evening."

Some take classes almost exclusively on the computer, but that doesn't work for all students, Maher said.

For some, personal instruction and old-fashioned pencil and paper work best.

"Some computer courses require a high reading level," she said. "Computers are not always as user-friendly as the old-fashioned way. And many students don't have internet at home. If they want to work at home part of the time, they can't really do it on computers."

One thing is truer now than ever before: if students don't finish high school, the doors of opportunity begin closing - a fact that the program's students are made very well aware of, Maher said.

Students are allowed to come back until the age of 20. After that, there are few options, as state-funded adult education programs were discontinued in the 1990s.

"They either come to grips with the fact that they need to buckle down and graduate or get a GED (general equivalency degree) down the road," she said.

"And they've made the GED a lot harder. It's quite a test any more. And you have to pay to take it. And if you fail, you have to pay again."

It is also made clear to students that it is okay for them to take an individual path toward obtaining their degree, Stewart said.

Students can take two paths toward that diploma - one of the reasons Stewart believes the program appears to be succeeding.

They can achieve the full 24 credits required of traditional students. Three of this year's graduates have done so. But that can be tough.

Others are permitted to finish based on the Michigan Merit Curriculum, which requires only 18 required courses with no electives. The students take five classes per day, instead of seven.

The students attend in a separate portable on the high school grounds, but also have access to the same benefits as all students, including free breakfasts and lunches, use of the gym for exercise, the library-media center and the main office.

They are able to participate in school dances, assemblies, and extra-curricular activities - including the Prom, which took place on April 28.

They also have a teaching staff of their own, to instruct, guide and help them develop their own individualized programs.

Along with Maher, these include Dave VanDyke (social studies), Scott Steele (math), and Jackie Houle (science and English); and aide Sean Kramer.

"These people have provided our Learning Center students with outstanding one-on-one help and support," Stewart said.

"And I can't leave out Tammy Warczinsky, our amazing main office secretary, who so richly deserves her recognition as our district's Friend of Youth award for 2018!

"Our philosophy is 'You can do it, and we are here to help,' he added. "Good things come to those who work hard."

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