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Column: Changes make a difference at ALC

WORTHINGTON -- During the 2008-09 school year, Worthington Area Learning Center (ALC) staff and students began looking at ways to improve the school climate, student attendance, student behavior, test scores and involvement in both the school and community. Staff members participated in various workshops and met during the summer to develop changes that would impact the areas which were identified during the school year.

So, what changes have been made this school year (2009-10)? First, we looked at the school environment and this summer a new computer lab was installed, which has had a major impact on student learning opportunities. Students can now take advantage of on-line learning tools designed to improve test scores. It also allows students at the ALC to stay in their building to take the GRAD Math and Reading tests, which are both computer-based. Another visual change was the installment of colorful lockers; students can now take the responsibility of bringing their own school supplies along with having a safe place for their personal belongings.

The second change was the development of an advisory program called CONNECT. Students are assigned to a CONNECT group teacher, and they meet for about 30 minutes each day prior to lunch. The goal is to build positive relationships between students and teachers, as well as to make sure that academic and person needs are being met.

CONNECT teachers work closely with their students to address various issues, such as academics, character education and social skills along with involvement in various community service activities and implementation of some competitions between CONNECT groups. As a result of the program, students have been able to develop a relationship with teachers and feel more comfortable discussing their academic and personal issues. Students have also been involved in various community service projects such as a food drive, digging potatoes and helping with the loading of squash that was donated to our local food shelf. In fact, in November, students decided that they would like to have a luncheon for Veterans Day as a way to thank our local veterans for all they do for our country.

Another change that is making a difference is the implementation of a class that is designed to teach students the skills needed in order to pass the graduation requirements in both reading and math. Teachers are reviewing both the NWEA and MCA II assessment data to see what additional instructions students may need in a specific area. As a result, teachers are providing differentiated instruction to meet the specific needs of their learners. Results were seen in November, when 14 percent of the students passed the state GRAD Reading test after the second retake.

Providing students with leadership opportunities was another change that occurred this year. For the first time, a team of students had an opportunity to participate in the MAAP STARS program, a broad-based vocational organization for students in secondary alternative programs in the United States. The purposes of MAAP STARS are: to develop employment, academic and social skills; experience career-related activities that in turn assist them in making an informed career choice; build a cooperative and competitive spirit through individual and team activities and competition; strengthen social skills and build an appreciation for the responsibilities of citizenship, brotherhood, and the American free enterprise system; develop self-confidence; increase motivation, and create a desire for and belief in lifelong learning; and to meet with, have fun with and ultimately develop an appreciation for students and staff from other alternative program. This team of students will be developing a monthly action plan designed to promote various issues facing young people, as well as implementing various community service activities, getting fellow students involved in the various MAAP STARS competitions, along with being be responsible for promoting and explaining new school initiatives as well as communicating student concerns.

One final change that has occurred at the ALC is the implementation of the Behavior Academic Support in Education Program (B.A.S.E.): The B.A.S.E. program provides a smaller, more-closely supervised learning environment. Students in the B.A.S.E. program receive instruction during the day, but in some cases they may follow a separate bell schedule. The program is located in a separate room within the ALC.

Students may be referred to the B.A.S.E. program if they have had serious disciplinary issues for which they could have been expelled from school, or if an ALC student has been consistently in violation of student discipline policies and guidelines. Referral may also happen if a student is failing to make adequate academic process toward graduation, or if a student fails to meet the attendance policies.

Students can typically be in the program a minimum of 40 days if they meet the level requirements for both academic performance and behavior. However, in the event they choose to continue to perform at a lower level, they may be in the program indefinitely or until they make an effort to change their behavior.

So, you ask how these changes have made a difference. As a result, we have seen an increase in student attendance, an increase in student satisfaction in school and willingness to stay in school, more student involvement, positive relationships between students and teachers, an increase in community service activities, less behavior referrals and most of all a positive school climate that promotes learning.

Rhonda Brandt is the director of District 518's Area Learning Center.