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ALC students find their niche through alternative learning

William Hak, left, and Amber Nordrum collate journals Tuesday for the Shelter House in Willmar during Monica Villars' service learning class at the Area Learning Center in Willmar. Students at the ALC say they like the safety of the environment and enjoy learning in smaller class sizes. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

The Willmar Area Learning Center offers a safe and smaller place to go to school, one of its students told the Willmar School Board.

"I can get more of a connection with teachers," a student identified as Ana said, and she feels safe there. "If there's a fight, they take care of it," she added.

The board heard a progress report about the district's alternative programs last week during its monthly work session. Principal Beckie Simenson, who is charge of the programs, said the day program at the ALC has increased from 62 to 105 since school started.

"I want you to be proud of that," she told the board. "It's a wonderful program."

The program is well suited to students who prefer a smaller setting, she said.

Communications teacher Connie Zabel told the board about the variety of programs available at the alternative high school, which is located in the Garfield building in southwest Willmar. The presentation used the motto: "A place to grow and serve."

The school provides core classes and some electives, with other electives available through independent study or at Willmar Senior High, she said. Students at the ALC participate in the same standardized tests as students in the traditional programs in Willmar.

"Many initiatives come from our service learning class," Zabel said. Students have designed and painted a mural for the Shelter House women's shelter and journal pages for the women who stay there. They are working on a new mural for Kennedy Elementary.

The students have "adopted" a Kenyan orphanage, Zabel said. She displayed a photo of the children at the orphanage receiving Beanie Babies.

Students handle all aspects of the Quick Stop student store, providing "real world experience" that some have used to find jobs. The proceeds from the store are divided between the Kenyan orphanage and the American Cancer Society.

Students have become involved in United Way programs, worked at the community garden and participated in a program called Youth Build -- "lots of things that bring them out of their comfort zone," Zabel said.

The school has adopted the Fish Philosophy, a morale-building workplace philosophy, she said. This year, the emphasis is on random acts of kindness.

When a staff member or student witnesses an act of kindness, they reward the kindness with a paper fish and a snack. The paper fish are placed on a bulletin board. While there was some concern the students would just pass out treats to their friends, they have taken the effort seriously, she said.

Zabel said when she surveyed students about the ALC, they told her they liked it because it was a safe place to learn and offered a small environment and a family feeling.

Also at the work session, board members received the latest draft in a revision of the district's goals and strategic plan.

"It's significantly different than it was when we started," he said, and the staff continues to work on revising it.

Kjergaard asked board members to review the plan and relay their comments to him.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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