Phoenix dies due to numbers

Too few JDHS students signed up for advanced program

Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2000

Some students will miss the alternative Phoenix program, but not enough.

The Juneau-Douglas High School program that emphasized academic rigor, group projects and technology will close after this school year because of declining enrollments. Only 39 students, including 12 incoming freshman, signed up for next year.

That's down from enrollments of about 100 students in the past two years and up to 140 students in the program's first four years.

``It's sad. But with the numbers, it was just black and white we had to move on this,'' said JDHS Assistant Principal Deb Morse.

Phoenix students said the program had a reputation for being demanding and hard to get A's in. That scared students away and made it hard to keep students who were college bound and worried about scholarships.

``I had to work so hard to get an A because I wanted a scholarship desperately,'' said junior Kendra Barnes. ``An A is not common in Phoenix.''

It was also hard to recruit incoming freshmen because some students in the regular high school saw it as a program for ``geeks'' and ``nerds'' and discouraged others from joining it, students said.

And Phoenix students often couldn't schedule the electives they wanted in the regular high school program, they said.

``A lot of freshmen say they didn't enjoy it. A lot of kids in eighth grade say it's not going to be a blast,'' said freshman Ashley Stewart, who wanted to continue in Phoenix even though she struggled with her grades early on.

Some students thrived in the atmosphere of a small community, where they felt trusted by teachers and were expected to be self-motivated. Some said they especially enjoyed multi-disciplinary projects, which often involved going out into the community or presenting the results to the public. Students said they felt better prepared for college and jobs.

``I think it's more interesting than just doing straight book work because you see more applications to real life,'' said sophomore Liana Painter. ``It's self-directed learning. You can be a lot more independent. You can choose the style in which you want to learn.''

Sophomore Odin Miller said he joined Phoenix because it's easier to know the students and teachers in a small program. But he said he would have left Phoenix after this year, even if it hadn't shut down, because it was so much work and the schedule interfered with Spanish and music courses he wanted.

Mike Ciri, president of the Phoenix parents group, said a lack of support from school district administrators created the atmosphere that the program wouldn't last, and students became more reluctant to sign on.

``This is the ugly plant they just want an excuse to throw away,'' Ciri said.

Phoenix -- which required four years of math, science, English and social studies and two years of technology -- was served by five full-time teachers. Its small class sizes, compared with most classes at the main high school, were a source of resentment, as was its original allocation of computers.

The teachers will return to the regular high school, where they may reduce class sizes by one or two students each, and possibly more in math classes, said assistant principal Morse.

Phoenix technology teacher Mary-Lou Gervais will now teach math. Her courses in technology -- including industrial arts, photography and computer maintenance -- won't continue.

All of the Phoenix classes required students to use technology. Gervais said students told her they would miss the opportunity to continue their technology skills.

Danielle Tonkin, a junior, is concerned about leaving Phoenix for the regular high school. She thinks she won't be able to use computers when she needs to, and she doesn't like the atmosphere of a large school.

``It's like having all this freedom and going into a box,'' Tonkin said. ``I see it as like going into a cage. You can get suspended for walking down the hall without a pass. ... In Phoenix they trust you, they believe in you.''

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