Friday, March 02, 2018

Alternatives - Good for Our Kids

South Central High School was a brand new assignment for me this year. When I asked Mr. Kalvoda to meet with me to see what their needs were early in the year I told him that this was my 38th year in elementary education, but my first day in a high school. True story. When I asked him what they needed from me, he looked over at Vic, they kind of smiled wryly, and said that they were different there, and they didn’t need much from me. So when thinking about this blog assignment this week, I’m panicking because I don’t know much about what I’m supposed to be writing about.

So I’ve decided to share a success story with you. Late in the summer of 2007, my niece, Lisa, hit a land mine in her road called Life. It rocked all of our lives. A day and half later I found myself with an 18-year-old housemate, who was scared, depressed and rebellious. That’s when the aftershocks began.

My school year started the very next day, and she needed to start her senior year just a few days later. The big question was - where? BHS and CHS were too intimidating. There were more people in each one of those buildings than in the whole small town that she grew up in. Shiloh and St. Mary’s didn’t feel like a good fit to her either. Then I thought of South Central - not because it was part of the district I taught in, surprisingly, but because the son of a friend of mine had been through there a couple of years earlier and we had recently talked about how successful it had been for him.

One phone call later and we were talking to Scott Halvorson and Jeannie Karhoff, the principal and counselor at the time. Turns out Lisa only needed 2 credits to graduate and they had room in one class for her to start right away. The other class would start in November. We signed her up.

All was not smooth sailing. My traditional views of get yourself up and get to school in the morning were conflicting with her “I’ll go when I want to attitude.” Things got tense at home at times. South Central staff talked me down from a ledge a few times with “She needs to want this,” and “She has to own it - then it will happen.”

They were right. When she ran out of days she could miss, she got herself up and off to school in the morning. And she graduated with the class of 2008 with good grades and all.

I asked Lisa last night to give me her impressions of South Central High School. These are her words.

I graduated from South Central spring of 2008. I had previously spent kindergarten through my junior year in a small town school - 20ish kids to a class. This kind of setting was all I knew and what I was comfortable with. When I moved to Bismarck the first day of my senior year I was in need of a school. South Central worked with us and was able to get me in immediately. I had no idea what to expect, other than their all-too-common reputation of babysitting the “bad kids.” What I found at South Central were a handful of “bad kids,” but also some shy kids, outgoing kids, and a couple unique kids - just like you’d find in any setting. In a place that I thought I’d find nothing in common with, I found myself.

The best thing about South Central though, was the style of teaching. Instead of the normal classroom setting where the teacher gives a lesson and hands out the homework, SC played it differently. They focused more on a work-at-your-own-pace method. Each class would hand out the syllabus, the book and the homework. If you had a question the teacher was right there to help you. I found that this style of learning was just what I needed, my grades improved, my attitude about school improved, and it helped prepare me for college. As a graduate of South Central High School I have nothing but good things to say about it and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this school to anyone.

Lisa surprised us all when she signed up for college at BSC that fall. She had never shown any interest in college before. Fast forward 10 years and you will find an amazing wife and mother of 2 adorable boys. She got an associate of arts degree from BSC, then signed up for the National Guard to pay for more college. That ended abruptly when she broker her pelvis in basic training. Her rehab from that injury fueled a passion for exercise and therapy and she earned her certification as a personal trainer. She is currently working as a personal trainer, but is scheduled to give that up in the next couple of months as her family has decided to become certified as a foster family. They hope to smooth out some of the rough spots for other children.

Lisa is a success story. We are all very proud of her and what she has accomplished. The staff at South Central played a big part in getting her started in the right direction. I’m sure you have made a positive impact in the lives of many kids and I hope you’re proud of you.

Twitter Tuesday Questions:  

  • Q1 - Is high school the only level that an alternative learner situation is valuable, or could kids benefit from this environment at a younger age? 
  • Q2 - Is there a way we can tweak our existing setup at elementary and middle school to better accommodate the non-traditional learner?
  • Q3 - Is there a stigma attached to non-traditional environments? Is there a way to reduce that stigma by showing the public that the education received is equal but different?
  • Q4 - Would the innovative school under discussion for the district benefit kids who need alternative learning styles, such as those who are currently better served by schools like SCHS?

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