ALC students find success, New schedule and academic support yield results

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WILLMAR — Carlos Trevino has returned to school after dropping out in the 10th grade, and he's glad he found Willmar's Area Learning Center.

Trevino, 18, said a new schedule and other changes implemented this year have helped him a lot, he said.

He credits the Advancement Via Individual Determination academic support program with helping him make progress toward a diploma.

"I'm more accountable," he said. "I have to do it myself."

Trevino came back to school to earn his diploma with the goal of going on to study law enforcement in college.

AVID has helped him build his note-taking and listening skills, he said. He has a role model at the school in Willmar Police Officer James Venenga, the ALC's school resource officer who is nicknamed Kupcake.

The new schedule of four extended school days followed by a Friday of independent study works well for him, he said.

"As far as my eye can see, it's a great school," he said.

Linda Bahe, Willmar Public Schools' director of alternative programs, said this week that she is thrilled with the success students are finding this year.

Students are earning more credits, and attendance is better, Bahe said. A handful of students have earned enough credits to graduate this fall. Their photos are posted in the hall outside the office, each student smiling in a red cap and gown.

The schedule has lengthened the school day from eight class periods to 10 class periods in a school day, which lasts from 8 a.m. to nearly 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

In the past, the school offered night school one night a week. However, that wasn't meeting students' needs, Bahe said, and she had trouble finding teachers for it.

Bahe spent considerable time in the past couple years studying what other districts were doing with ALC schedules before she implemented the changes in September.

Now, the staff works a four-day week and teaches 10 periods a day. The new schedule allows students to stay and work longer with their regular teachers. It allows Willmar Senior High students needing to catch up on credits a chance to do it, too.

For students who work nights, it allows them to sleep in a bit and still put in a full school day among all the class periods that are available.

The Advancement Via Individual Determination program has taught students note-taking, organization and listening skills. The program is designed to prepare students for graduation and post-secondary education.

The program provides college tours and introduces students to the role models around them.

Students have been taught a method called Cornell Notes, and they track their assignments and progress in large three-ring binders.

"The kids are talking about going to college," Bahe said, and many weren't before.

"Never did I think things would go this well," she said. "It's neat to see our students really believing in themselves."

In communications class, Julio Lopez, who has attended the ALC for five years, said he didn't like the changes at first, but he's been won over. "It helps you remember," he said of his Cornell notes. "It's for the best, I guess."

The alternative high school has 120 to 130 students. It offers a more flexible school setting for students for whom traditional high school wasn't a good fit.

The reasons for being at the school vary with the student. Some are young parents who need a more flexible schedule. Others need to work, and the ALC fits their needs. Some have fallen behind in high school credits, and the ALC can help them catch up.