For some students, the traditional classroom isn’t the best pathway to success. Whether they are facing temporary life circumstances that make it impossible to prioritize school, or they are combating anxiety or other health issues, sometimes the daily task of attending full classes in a school of over 800 students can feel impossible.
The off-site alternative education program, run by Lori Moses, provides these students with a change of environment and resources to help them succeed. A modified schedule with morning and afternoon sessions allows for greater flexibility and keeps the groups small, usually under 10 students per session. Students work at their own pace and can complete assignments in a longer or shorter time span as needed. This allows them to focus on the content areas that they struggle with.
The work is also highly individualized. As soon as students qualify for her program, Ms. Moses reviews transcripts and uses them to set short, intermediate, and long term goals. She reviews the transcripts with students at least once a week so that they can see how they are progressing and helps them determine what they need to focus on, and how to adjust and commit to their short term goals.
“It breaks it down for them into something more manageable,” she said.
One of the longterm goals for the students is to eventually reintegrate into the traditional classroom when possible. The program is designed to be a stepping stone. “I love them all, but I don’t want to keep them all,” said Moses. “It’s not what is best for them.”
Another long-term goal is to prepare them for life beyond the classroom. “We look at job preparation, how to write a resume, how to fill out the FAFSA,” she said. She also connects them with community service opportunities within the district. Students must apply to community service positions as they would apply for a regular job. Once they are accepted, Moses goes over the policies involved in the position, and they discuss how to dress, and how to behave.
Moses also helps them address current real-life needs. She’s helped students get health care, sign up for health insurance, or open bank accounts. She brings in groups like Vocational Rehab to help students set post-secondary goals, connect with trade schools or community colleges, and find employment. She considers finding the best resources and making the connections her students need to be one of the most important parts of her job.
As students tend to move in and out of the program over the course of the year, the group dynamic is always changing. Because of this, the team approach is crucial in order to provide the necessary academic and emotional support. Moses works closely with Galen Mayhew, the on-site alternative education teacher at the high school. “He has a ‘whatever you need’ response to anything I’ve ever asked. He’s truly there for the students,” said Moses. She’s also in constant communication with the MHS guidance department and administration in order to monitor students’ progress and supply them with needed resources. The students themselves are a huge component of the team. Personal buy-in is a must to succeed in the program, and the students also encourage, support, and even call each other out on falling behind or breaking the rules.
Moses says that one of the major keys to the program’s success is that she maintains firm boundaries and keeps the environment professional. Foul language is not allowed, neither are inappropriate conversation topics. Students are expected to treat the program like a job by attending and contacting Ms. Moses ahead of time if they cannot. The students know that if they miss two days in a row, she will pull out all the stops to track them down. Many students who were chronically absent at the high school have much better attendance rates in the off-site program.
Success looks different for each student. Some students go from being in the off-site alternative program to returning to the high school full time. Others work with Ms. Moses to find the best plan B, like Job Corps or night classes. Students sometimes have personal goals that are their markers for success. One student hopes to be the first person in her immediate family to receive a traditional high school diploma and is even taking a dual enrollment college class. Another student overcame crippling anxiety with the program’s support and went on to march at graduation and participate in project graduation, something that they once considered impossible.
One of the things that Moses loves the most about her job is that every day is a little different. “It’s just about dealing with whatever life brings that day,” she said. “The program is constantly evolving to meet the academic, social and emotional needs of students.”