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School-in-the-school: Willmar students have new options at high school

Emily Turrubiates works on her math assignment Thursday at the school in the school at Willmar Senior High School. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — Emily Turrubiates, a sophomore at Willmar Senior High, is on her second trip through an algebra class, and she feels like she’s finally getting it.

“I understand it more than before,” she said in the classroom used for the school-in-the-school program that began this fall.

Turrubiates and other students who have struggled in a math or science class can now use the SIS program to spend part of their day in the program recovering credits they need to stay on track for graduation.

Students’ reasons for using the program vary. In some cases, they just didn’t grasp some concepts in their first try. For others, absences or failing to complete homework sank their chances.

These kids could transfer to the Area Learning Center, the district’s alternative high school, but not everyone wants to do that.

“We feel the ALC is a great program for some kids,” said Principal Paul Schmitz. The school-in-the-school program gives students another option that lets them stay at the traditional high school.

Students in SIS are open-enrolled to the ALC for a quarter of each day, but their ALC classroom is at the high school. They earn ALC credits, which can be converted into high school credits.

“It stems from the fact that state requirements for science and math are continually being ratcheted up,” he said.

Communications and social studies have always had requirements each year through 12th grade, he said, but that hasn’t been the case in other core subjects.

To earn a high school diploma now, students are required to take geometry, statistics and two years of algebra, and all students must take either physics or chemistry in addition to previous science requirements.

“We were anticipating that some kids could do the math, just not at the pace needed,” Schmitz said. “Everybody learns math at a different pace.”

Schmitz had the idea for the school-in-the-school program, and Elaine Adams, a retired teacher, donated $15,000 to purchase the curriculum for the class.

The SIS uses an online curriculum which teacher Nichole Greseth adapted to fit state standards and the high school’s curriculum.

The classroom on the first floor of Willmar Senior High, down a hall near the high school office, is very quiet, something Greseth encourages.

“They are all working on different things,” she said. “They shouldn’t have much to talk about, at least related to school work.”

All of the students are studying science or math, and she’s licensed to teach both, so she can usually help students who hit a roadblock, she said.

During the class, she circulates in the room to quietly answer questions and provide some guidance. For the most part, students work quietly on their own.

Nearly 20 students are in the SIS program during the school’s first two blocks each day. They can use their iPads to continue working at home and at SMART Club, an after-school homework club.

Most of the students are making good use of their opportunity to catch up, Greseth said. One is a returning senior who is finishing the last credits for a diploma.

“It gives them a second opportunity, to cater to their learning style and keep them in the high school, and get them that high school diploma,” Greseth said.

This is her first experience with teaching an online course, though she has taken some online courses herself, Greseth said.

“It’s kind of a learning curve for everybody,” she said.

The software allows her to track which assignments students have completed, how they have done on quizzes and exams. They can’t move onto a new assignment without completing the previous one with a score of 70 percent or higher.

Turrubiates said she enjoys the quiet classroom and the chance to work at her own pace. “I like it here,” she said.

That feeling is shared by some classmates, but not all.

“I’m in here because I need to recover a credit … algebra,” said Jonathan Enamorado, a junior. Without the class, he said, he’d be in night school or at the ALC, and he didn’t want to go that route.

“I didn’t want to go to the ALC,” said Julio Delacruz, a sophomore also working on algebra. “I’d rather stick to the high school,” he said, because he has friends there and likes the atmosphere more.

“It’s an opportunity to make up mistakes,” Delacruz said.

Ezequiel Gomez, however, isn’t as happy to be in the classroom studying physical science. “I’d rather be in night school, it’s easier and faster to get the credit,” he said. However, he had agreed to do the SIS and decided to stick it out.

Enamorado said the class and its combination of online classes and classroom assistance “helps out a lot.”

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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