My Turn: New school will herald a new era

Posted: Wednesday, March 05, 2008

At some point on the morning of Sept. 3, a set of doors will be unlocked and a new era of education will begin in Juneau. Thunder Mountain High School, the controversial and often misunderstood high school, will open.

There have been countless inaccurate comments about the school, and I don't intend to rebut any of them. Instead, let us focus on what the school will bring to those enrolled in that silver and blue building.

Patti Bippus has an artist's vision for the programs at Thunder Mountain, with 19 years experience as a principal to draw upon to see her plans come to fruition. Through her, the school will not be the old one-size-fits-all model.

Freshmen Small Learning Communities were introduced this year and reduced the shock many students experience as they transition into high school. Imagine the wasted opportunity as an at-risk student walks by a group of teachers, and none realize they have that student in common. Small learning communities prevent this.

Students won't be abandoned after their first year, and this is where the interest academies come in. They help students become excited about classes. After a series of surveys, teachers recognized students' desire for sciences and humanities. The Exploration and Discovery and Global Expressions academies were created to capture their expressed interest.

Academies will not lock students into careers, nor limit options after high school. What they will do is allow students to be animated about a course of study.

Also, isn't it better to discover while in high school that being a veterinarian is not a desired career, rather than spending thousands to discover the same thing in college?

Thunder Mountain teachers will implement these programs; and an incredible staff wants to open that new building.

I challenge anyone to sit in on a lesson by Joe Powers, history, and not be moved by his presentation. George Gress disappointed quite a few juniors, as they wanted to take his British Literature course; they will have to envy Thunder Mountain freshmen instead. Barbara Bonner is taking her Small Learning Community team to Thunder Mountain, and her empathy for students is mind-blowing; failure is truly not an option for her.

Chris Carte's business classes have been a staple at Juneau-Douglas High School for generations, but she is taking her boundless energy and enthusiasm to Thunder Mountain. Topaz Shyrock, science, may be familiar to students at Thunder Mountain; last year she taught many of them in middle school. New teacher Jake Jacoby has deep ties to JDHS, he graduated from that school, but he too wants to be part of this new era.

In other words, successful teachers from JDHS want to take their skills and motivations to the new school for the benefit of Thunder Mountain's first generation of students.

This leads to what school is truly all about: the students. You will have dynamic class options, taught by outstanding teachers, but the new walls and teachers are moot without you.

What is education, finally, but a challenge to what you know? Learning is often uncomfortable, but it imparts satisfaction from knowledge gained. Those who chose to become Falcons will be trailblazers. Starting a new school may seem difficult, but imagine the confidence gained from going where others have not yet tread.

Imagine creating and naming the first yearbook and school newspaper.

Imagine starting new traditions for our sports and activities.

Imagine being the first class to walk the stage during graduation, or being in the first four-year class to graduate from Thunder Mountain.

Imagine implementing the best that you have experienced during your school career, but leaving the hazing, the bullying, and the being a face in the crowd behind.

I invite anyone contemplating TMHS to ask me any questions. All of this controversy about the school will subside, but the school will remain. Schools are about the students and those who teach them. We have the teachers; I invite you to be the student.

• Graham G. Storey is slated to teach biology at the new high school.



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