Students try alternative to tradition

Each student has a similar story. They've struggled at traditional high schools, facing social or academic problems. They were failing their classes and were ready to drop out.

"I didn't think I would ever graduate," 17-year-old Violet Smarik said.

Now, Smarik is a straight-A student attending school for four hours a day through the Moffat County High School Youth Experiencing Success Alternative School at the Boys & Girls Club of Craig.

"I started to do really good right away," she said. "It made me focus a lot more on school. Now school is more important to me than anything else."

A successful program

In its second year of operation, the alternative school is considered a success. In 2005, 57 percent of participants completed the program and 78 percent reduced at least one failing grade. The program served 89 students in fifth through 12th grades. Four students earned their diplomas.

"Those are kids who weren't going to graduate," alternative school teacher Rob Winn said. "After leaving, those kids said there was no way they would've graduated without the program."

With 25 students, the program has reached capacity and has a waiting list of about 12 students. More want to get in the program but can't.

"For every one kid on the waiting list there are probably two kids who were told 'no,'" Winn said.

Students must apply to participate in the program. A committee meets to evaluate application and interviews the students and their parents.

Students must agree to attend the school. They must also have attempted classes in a traditional setting but struggled socially or academically or had behavioral problems.

The alternative school may deny an application from a student with severe behavioral issues or with violent tendencies.

Five slots are held open to accommodate Craig Middle School students who have been suspended and need a structured way to continue their education.

Hindsight is 20/20

This is Moffat County's third attempt at providing an alternative school. The program is different in that it's away from the high school and combines counseling, life skills and character-building exercises with traditional core classes.

"I think that's what makes this program as successful as it is," Winn said. "That's really a key component."

Students agree that the counseling component is valuable.

"Since I've come to the alternative school, it's changed my live," junior Justin Seely said. "Group on Tuesdays and Thursdays is my favorite. Mrs. (Joann) Snow's really nice."

Snow is a social worker who meets with students twice weekly and helps them refine their social skills, set personal goals and develop leadership and coping skills.

Students take online courses, which allow them to progress at their own pace.

Students enroll in the alternative school for a variety of reasons, all hinging this: The traditional 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. school day and school environment don't meet their needs.

"It's our concept of meeting the needs of all the students and one-size fits all is not the ideal for all students," Superintendent Pete Bergmann said.

"We're trying to meet the needs of a diverse group of students who don't fit -- for whatever reason -- traditional education in a traditional high school."

Making a commitment

Jessica Seals, 17, failed nearly every class she took at the high school as a freshman. She had attended school and said she didn't like the it or the teachers.

One of her personal goals, she said, is to make it to the alternative school on time every day.

Thirty-three percent of those enrolled in the program last year improved their attendance rates.

Seals raised her grades from "mostly Fs" to "mostly Cs."

"I'm pretty happy just passing with Cs," she said. "I actually look forward to school, and now I want to go to college."

Every student is required to meet behavioral expectations, and they progress from Level 1 to Level 3 based on how well they meet those expectations. Students earn privileges such as extended gym time or the ability to have food in the classroom. A student must keep 75 percent of their behavior points for two weeks before they can move up a level.

"I like levels," Seals said. "You have to earn things in life, and you have to earn levels."

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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