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

Erica Dischino / Tribune Linda Bahe, Willmar Public Schools’ director of alternative programs, works with students Nov. 7 in a classroom at the Area Learning Center in Willmar. Bahe said she is thrilled with the success students are having this year under a new schedule.1 / 11
Erica Dischino / Tribune Students at the Area Learning Center in Willmar have written down their aspirations for the future. 2 / 11
Erica Dischino / Tribune Willmar Public Schools’ director of alternative programs Linda Bahe shows the new hybrid schedule in use at the Area Learning Center in Willmar. The hybrid schedule allows students to attend organized class four days a week and work independently one day a week. 3 / 11
Erica Dischino / Tribune Area Learning Center communications teacher Kerrie Speer teaches a class Nov. 7 at the Area Learning Center in Willmar. A new schedule this allows students to attend organized classes four days a week and work independently one day a week.4 / 11
Erica Dischino / Tribune Administrator of alternative programs Linda Bahe walks through the decorated hallways of the Area Learning Center Nov. 7 in Willmar.5 / 11
Erica Dischino / Tribune Carlos Trevino is shown at the Area Learning Center in Willmar. After leaving Willmar Senior High School after his freshman year, Trevino decided to finish his education two years later at the Area Learning Center in an effort to later work toward a post-secondary degree in law enforcement. 6 / 11
Erica Dischino / Tribune A painting of united children is in Linda Bahe’s Area Learning Center office in Willmar. 7 / 11
Erica Dischino / Tribune Linda Bahe, Willmar School District's administrator of alternative programs, shows the materials students use for learning organizational skills and how to take better notes at the Area Learning Center in Willmar. These materials are a part of the Advancement Via Individual Determination academic support program, which was implemented at the school this year. 8 / 11
Erica Dischino / Tribune College flags hang on the walls of the Area Learning Center in Willmar. The school this year began using an academic support program designed to prepare students for graduation and post-secondary education. 9 / 11
Erica Dischino / Tribune Communications teacher Kerrie Speer teaches a class Nov. 7 at the Area Learning Center in Willmar. A new schedule this allows students to attend organized classes four days a week and work independently one day a week.10 / 11
Erica Dischino / Tribune Carlos Trevino stands in the hallway of the Area Learning Center in Willmar, where he is pursuing his high school diploma after dropping out in 10th grade. The 18-year-old said the new schedule at the school is working for him as he works toward his goal of studying law enforcement in college.11 / 11

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.

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

(320) 214-4340
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