Fitting school to life

New program to reduce dropouts caters to variety of circumstances

Posted: Sunday, November 22, 2009

Leslie Miyasato, 18, missed two quarters of high school classes to take care of her new baby.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Josh Hamilton, 17, missed five weeks because of mononucleosis and bronchitis.

Rachel Lokke, 17, wants to graduate a semester early and start attending the University of Alaska Anchorage before June.

Their reasons are different, but all three are enrolled in the Juneau School District's new after-school Credit Attainment, Recovery and Employment Skills program, or CARES, which just finished its first week of classes. The program is aimed at students who might be likely to drop out due to extenuating circumstances.

More than 30 students have enrolled so far in this quarter's classes, which include math, a computer-based multiple subject program, physical education, an independent career-ready course and a three-week intensive English and social studies course set for January.

The program began as an idea in Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling's mind five years ago and became a reality this year because of a $1.5 million, five-year 21st century government grant.

"If we're really serious about ensuring every students gets a diploma, we need to think about school other than on an 8 to 4 schedule," Scandling said. "These kinds of classes that could provide credit restoration might be the bridge ... (for) older students who have already moved onto adult-like behaviors - jobs, relationships, housing, parenting - where being in a high school situation feels artificial compared to life."

In order to help assist students with children, the district has contracted with Catholic Community Services to provide drop-in child care for attendees. They also provide help with transportation through Zach Gordon Youth Center and city bus passes.

This quarter, kids in the program are also students at Yaakoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School and Juneau-Douglas High School. Four other students in the program had previously dropped out of school.

Next quarter, the program will open to Thunder Mountain High School students.

This time next year, program director Bernie Sorenson said she hopes more than 100 students will have attended the program.

"It's a program I believe in," said program teacher Kristy Dillingham. "I believe in looking at the student as a whole person and finding out their interests, finding out their passions, and letting them realize that those interests and passions are important ... and figuring out ways that we can tie that in to help them get credits for that. ... It is completely outside of the box of what happens during the school day."

Miyasato said if it weren't for the after-school program, she'd probably be dropping out. She was frustrated when she was told she wouldn't be able to graduate in the spring - something the program could help her accomplish.

"I don't want to graduate when she's 2," she said, gesturing to her 9½ month old daughter, Cleo, who was allowed in class as a "special guest" until Cleo's dad could pick her up. "I really need the extra credit. I'm crossing my fingers on graduation."

• Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.



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