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Alternate school graduates

The Class of 2019 saw ten members complete their education through the West Campus program at the Vinton-Shellsburg Community School District. This makes a total of 106 students in ten years who may not have received their high school diplomas without the program.

VINTON – The importance of receiving a high school diploma is difficult to exaggerate. Typically, students who leave school before completing their secondary education earn $10,000 less every year than those with a high school diploma, and $36,000 a year less than a college graduate.

Young people who don’t graduate high school are also at greater risk of becoming chronically ill from cardiovascular disease and obesity. Though the HiSET test (which replaced the General Education Development Test – GED) is recognized as a valid substitute, most students who drop out of school find getting a HiSET to be a significant challenge; they are still affected by many of the same factors that led them to leave school, but there is no one to help them stay on track.

This year the 100th student graduated through the Vinton-Shellsburg Community School District’s alternative education program at West campus. A total of 106 students have found success who otherwise might have left school without a diploma in hand.

Ten years ago, the district recognized it was not meeting the needs of all students with the traditional approach to high school. In response, faculty and administration members developed the alternative education program for those learners who have not been successful in the traditional setting. The Class of 2019 saw ten members complete their education through the program at West Campus.

West Campus instructor, Fritz Burow, defines alternative education as “educating students wherever they are. It’s getting them to be just a little bit smarter every single day to make them 21st-century employees.”

The West Campus alternative program offers another structure for students who may struggle in the more traditional model of education that is in place at South Campus (210 W 21st Street). A primary difference between the two campuses is how the day and academic year are structured. The two campuses also differ in the delivery of instruction, class size, and the grading scales. The expectations for attendance and the education addressing the development of employability and healthy social and emotional skills are treated distinctly as well.

On average ten percent of a VSCSD graduating class have earned credits to graduate by attending classes at West Campus. Tony Islas, Assistant High School Principal, and Administrator for West Campus, states, “Without this program and the dedicated staff to operate it, we would have fewer graduates each year. I’m pleased with the staff, administration, and school board commitment that makes it possible for all our students to have what they need educationally to move on in their lives.”

It was the creation of the West Campus that attracted Jim Mochal to the district. He spent his first six years with Vinton-Shellsburg as an alternative education instructor before taking on the role of Student Success Coordinator at the South Campus. “The fact that a district the size of VSCSD created an alternative education program and then created a position for a Student Success Coordinator says quite a bit about the district’s commitment to each student’s success,” says Mochal. In his new position, Mochal monitors the progress of students at the South Campus (the traditional high school) to identify improvement opportunities.

For a student to attend classes at West Campus, there must be a consensus among the student, their parents/guardians, and district administration. It is important to place students at the campus that provides the structure which will best support each student’s educational progress and achievement.

“Students at West Campus are serious about finishing their education and graduating. They understand this may be their only opportunity to do so in a public education setting. The alternative education structure we’ve put in place is designed purposefully to provide reinforcement and opportunities to reach achievement points more frequently than the traditional semester schedule offered at South Campus. They can see the progress they are making towards that goal of graduating,” explains Sandy Hamilton, High School Academic Advisor & Social Worker.

West Campus students receive the same diploma as those receiving credits from traditional classes at the South Campus. It is important to note that students at West Campus must score 75% or higher in a class to pass and receive credit. In the traditional model, a passing grade is 60%. There is also a higher expectation for attendance at West Campus. Students understand that regular attendance is a must for their success.

The alternative education program at West Campus is just one example of how the VSCSD works towards the overall goals of providing opportunities to students to personalize their learning and ultimately earn their high school diplomas.

VSCSD School Board president, Rob Levis, summarized the West Campus milestone by saying, “The 100th Graduate from West Campus is an amazing milestone and achievement for our community and kids. Creative educational leaders, supportive patrons, great teachers, and dedicated kids finding a way to ensure all young people in this community have the opportunity to learn and be successful. The Board could not be prouder of our district, teachers and staff, and the young men and women who have made West Campus such an amazing success. Every kid, every day, every way!”