As the state continues to raise education standards, the three alternative schools in Umatilla County changed their approach to keep more students on track for a diploma.
Pendleton assistant superintendent Tricia Mooney said Hawthorne Alternative High School’s graduation rate was at 6 percent in 2012 because students had to take an extra elective credit and pass a state reading test to graduate.
This year’s Hawthorne seniors, along with every senior in the state, will have to pass state reading and writing tests. Next year’s class also will have to pass a math test.
Chris Bettineski, a counselor and teacher at Hawthorne, said while the school aims to increase its four-year graduation rate, other degree options help to keep students enrolled. Some may be so far behind in credits that taking more than four years to graduate — or earning a GED instead — is more feasible.
“They come to us anywhere from zero credits to almost finished,” Bettineski said. “A vast majority of our kids come from extremely at-risk environments ... a lot of our kids live in a constant state of crisis.”
Many Hawthorne students receive free or reduced lunches, and take advantage of its free daily breakfast. Most students are from single-parent households and may have to help their parents care for their siblings. Keeping the school day nearly two hours shorter than Pendleton High School makes it easier for those students to help at home.
A shorter school day is possible because all the classes at Hawthorne, except a few electives, are offered as computer programs. This allows students to work at their own pace to finish courses.
Innovative Learning Center
Hermiston’s alternative program likewise provides an education better suited for students with struggles at home, said principal Ryan Keefauver. Last year the district started sending students who had behavioral issues or missed a lot of school to night classes at its Innovative Learning Center until they showed improvement.
Starting in January, the district consolidated its night class, GED and alternative course students into the learning center. Either Keefauver or a school counselor now meets individually at least once a term with with all ILC students to make sure they are on track to graduate. At the meetings, students set short-term goals so they are not overwhelmed by trying to plan all their courses at once.
Just three of the 20 alternative seniors received a regular diploma in 2012, Keefauver said. This year 11 seniors in the ILC are working toward a four-year degree, and the rest are on a longer diploma track or working toward a GED.
The ILC’s location on the Hermiston High School campus allows students to take both alternative classes and traditional high school courses.
While Bettineski said having all of Pendleton’s alternative students in one hallway makes it easier to keep track of them, the school’s location inhibits their opportunities. Since Pendleton High School is a mile across town, Hawthorne students can’t take electives that offer skills they can use in the workforce, such as a metals class.
The district is aiming to correct this by moving the alternative school to West Hills Intermediate — just steps away from the high school, Mooney said. The district included the project in plans for a $55 million bond slated for the November ballot.
Pleasant View principal Suzy Mayes said increasing communication with parents helped improve the Milton-Freewater school’s graduation rate from 18 to 21 percent in 2012. Since the start of last academic year, the school started issuing two progress reports before sending home report cards, and met with teachers at least twice a year to discuss graduation requirements. Pleasant View is run by InterMountain.
The greatest at-risk demographic at Pleasant View is its Hispanic population, which makes up approximately 64 percent of the enrollment.
Some of those students miss two months of school a year to travel to Mexico to visit family. Those students benefit from a school program that offers some classes through workbooks and online courses. But they miss out on core classes while they are gone because all math, language arts and science classes are offered in a traditional class setting.
Mayes said more Hispanic parents are beginning to realize that taking their children out of school makes it difficult for them to achieve a full life here.
“The parents are starting to figure it out,” Mayes said. “That's the biggest success with them is our constant communication.”
Contact Chris Rizer at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.