Juneau’s eighth-graders and their families have until Valentine’s Day next month to choose which high school they want to attend next year, and the schools will have information nights Wednesday and Thursday to help students decide.
A key component of the Next Generation Plan from 2007, which outlined the process of transitioning to a two-school system for high schoolers, allows students to choose which school they want to attend.
“Ninety percent are going to choose their school based on location, and the other 10 percent are looking for some uniqueness,” said Dan Larson, the principal of Thunder Mountain High School. “Often times it’s family values — particularly true of students who live in the valley and want to attend JDHS because they’re legacy.
“For others, it’s a matter of personal preference,” he added.
Both information nights will include a presentation about the school and a tour of facilities starting at 5:30 p.m. TMHS’ night is Thursday, and JDHS’ is Wednesday.
According the Larson, changes in scholarship and graduation requirements have made the schools far more similar now than they were six years ago.
“The differences have become less, specifically when we talk about course offerings,” he said.
Eighth-grade students received a form entitled, “A Guide to Choosing a High School” from the Juneau School District that outlines some of the primary differences between the two. Those differences are most evident in the schools’ career pathway offerings.
JDHS offers programs focused on architecture, auto mechanics, construction, engineering, business, media communications, instrumental and theater. At TMHS, students can choose from pathways in marine and environmental science, outdoor education, culinary arts, entrepreneurship, science and technology and digital communications.
Both schools have pathways centered on visual arts and vocal performance.
“Having these comprehensive offerings, and having the facilities is exposing kids to other options they may not have exposure too,” JDHS Principal Paula Casperson said. “You may be thinking you’re heading toward teaching as a career, but then you take a CAD class and it may switch your thinking to a career in architecture or engineering.”
At JDHS, that is especially true for students who take classes tied to the school’s auto mechanics facility or participate in a program where they plan, design and construct a real house in a year.
“It’s about exposing our Crimson Bears to a variety of opportunities,” Casperson said.
There are also other exclusives at each school. For example, tennis and hockey are only offered at JDHS, Casperson said. On the other hand, students wanting to take classes in Russian, marine biology or forensics would have to go to TMHS for that, Larson said.
Students also have the option of requesting to be home-schooled through the district’s HomeBRIDGE program, or they can apply to attend Yaakoosge Daakahidi High School, which offers smaller class sizes and a unique learning experience focused on students getting a more personalized educational experience.
“We’re built to serve students who tried mainstream education at one of the other two high schools but it just wasn’t working,” said Kristin Garot, the principal at YDHS. “It’s for students who really want to attain their diploma but just haven’t.”
The program also has ability to help students who fall behind take extra credits to catch up and graduate on time, or sooner than they would otherwise if graduating on time isn’t possible.
Students who take either of the non-traditional options are still eligible to participate in activities and athletics at either JDHS or TMHS.
“It is paramount that kids get involved in activities and/or athletics,” Larson said. “They execl up to graduation and their predictors of future success are much better.”
Moving to two high schools has helped fuel an increase in activity and athletic participation, and that increase will directly lead to more school district graduates being better prepared when they join the workforce, he added.
“All those types of skills (that employers look for) come from being part of a structured group like what we provide in activities and athletics,” Larson said.
Both administrators directed praise for the schools’ good performance toward the people who attend, teach and help make everything work on a daily basis.
“We really have amazing parents, teachers and students,” Casperson said. “That’s why I’ve stayed where I’m at for so long — I love where I’m at, and the school family I’m a part of.”