Schools find new methods to learn

For years, schools have offered a separate program for their students who struggle in the traditional classroom or who dropped out and are trying to finish up their schooling.

Now they are looking toward another group of students who need extra help but still want to graduate with their classmates.

The new programs are aimed at helping students who are struggling in their classes through one-on-one attention from teachers, online courses, where they can work at their own pace, and a chance to graduate on time through new or expanded programs.

For the past few years, schools have looked into expanding their alternative program options.

At The Crossing Educational Center in Whiteland, students who dropped out could complete their diploma in a nontraditional classroom setting, with more hands-on learning experiences. For example, last year, students launched a microbusiness selling hand-crafted wooden benches and wine racks.

At Clark-Pleasant Academy, which caters to juniors and seniors who are behind in course credits, students can finish the rest of their classwork in a separate building from the high school.

But there wasn’t an option for students in any grade level who needed to get back on track but still wanted to graduate from the high school with the rest of their classmates.

Next fall, Whiteland Community High School officials want to create an alternative program that will be housed in the high school’s former freshman building, which will be open to students in grades 9 through 12 and former students who dropped out or withdrew, Principal Tom Zobel said.

The program will have room for about 15 students each in a morning and afternoon program, he said.

“It gives us an opportunity to just kind of keep them in our circles, make sure we’re tracking with more of a sense of urgency than what we have at The Crossing,” Zobel said.

For younger students who are behind in multiple classes, they could get a chance to catch up at their own pace in the alternative program then rejoin their classes at the high school, he said.

“This would give us the option to maybe put the student in there for a semester or two, stabilize their education experience, get them back on track credit-wise, then possibly put them back in the high school if we feel like that’s the appropriate place,” Zobel said.

The alternative program Clark-Pleasant officials are suggesting is similar to Greenwood Connections, a classroom reserved for juniors and seniors who spend part of their school day taking academic classes online at their own pace. The program started last year and has been successful enough that they’re expanding to allow sophomores to get individualized attention in English and math next year while still having a regular schedule, Greenwood Community High School Principal Todd Garrison said.

“For a lot of these kids, this is the style that best meets their needs,” Garrison said.

Two seniors graduated before the end of December, which wouldn’t have been possible without Greenwood Connections in place, Garrison said. And every senior who was in the program this year that was within reach of graduating on time is on track to receive their diploma by the end of the semester, Greenwood director of guidance Bill Ronk said.

By finding the students who are struggling in a traditional classroom schedule, these specialized programs allow school officials to intervene faster and get students back on track to graduate in four years. One benefit is that their graduation rate will hopefully be higher in the future.

“The (graduation) rate itself is not the important thing. It’s the individual students. We want them to graduate,” Ronk said.

Since Greenwood Connections began last year, Garrison can tell that high school attendance numbers have been steadier than in years past, he said. A large reason is that students are under the same roof as traditional high school classes, so they’re still eating lunch with their friends and can take electives, such as art or band, he said.

“These kids still feel like they’re a Woodman,” Garrison said.

At a glance

Two high schools are focusing more attention on programs that allow students to earn credits faster and get them back on track to graduate within four years. Here’s a look at the programs:

Whiteland Community High School

Program: Officials want to set up a classroom for students struggling to graduate on time

Grades: 9-12, plus students who dropped out or withdrew from school district

Where: The program would be located in the former freshman building that is next to the high school

Greenwood Community High School

Program: Greenwood Connections is for students who are behind in classes, don’t learn best in the traditional school schedule and can work at their own pace by taking online courses

Grades: Juniors and seniors can participate this year; sophomores can participate next school year for English and math assistance

Where: The classroom is where the health classes in the high school used to be