BHS provides several options for struggling students
By Jennifer Eisenbart
Whoever coined the phrase “high school is the best time of your life” either has a sick sense of humor – or never went to high school.
For a variety of reasons, high school is never as easy as some want to believe. Social pressures, academic issues and expectations often combine to make the situation a test by fire for many teenagers.
With Burlington High School promoting its stance that all students should leave the district college- or career-ready, though, students who would normally fall through the cracks are finding different options being offered.
“What we have works for the majority of our students,” said BHS Principal Eric Burling. But as he and Assistant Principal Jill Oelslager presented at a recent Burlington Area School District Curriculum Committee meeting, efforts are being made for that minority.
Oelslager made about an hour-long presentation Feb. 4 outlining four different options available for students who, for whatever reason, weren’t succeeding in the regular high school setting.
Topping those options was the Southern Lakes Consortium Alternative High School, which began in January 1996. The alternative school opened with 24 students, and now has 40, enrolled from districts that include Burlington, East Troy, Union Grove, Waterford and Westosha.
Students also have the option of pursuing their graduate-equivalent degree (GED), graduating through the Arrow Academy, or through the Second Chance program.
With spots limited in all of the programs, Oelslager said the district tries to fit students into programs that give them the best chance for success.
The alternative high school, for instance, emphasizes attendance and takes between 1-2 years to complete. Students cannot get into the program until they are at least a semester into their sophomore year, and each student gets his or her own program. Students don’t have electives, but complete the same portfolio and core credits as regular students.
It is a competency-based diploma, and it’s held in higher regard than participating in the GED program. Students can work in the afternoon and have Fridays off. Often, these students get into smaller universities and technical schools.
Seven of eight BASD students involved graduated in 2010-11, 11 of 12 in 2011-12 and nine are projected to graduate this year.
“It’s always a hot commodity,” Oelslager said. “The seats are always wanted.”
BASD has also had 12 students graduate from the GED program, most often taken through Gateway Technical College.
But because of the attendance required for the alternative high school, BASD decided it needed another option. The ARROW Academy – which stands for Achieve Respect, Responsibility, Ownership and Work Ethic – provides that.
It is a 17 credit BHS diploma program for at-risk students, with classes held at Gateway’s HERO Center from 9:15-12:15 p.m. each day. Students must fit at least two at-risk criteria (being behind in credits, behind in their class, low test scores, chronically ill, etc.) and are mainly juniors and seniors.
Three BHS teachers handle one class there each day.
“It’s nice that way, because we can utilize our own staff,” Oelslager said. “It’s also nice to have it off campus, because some of these students don’t like the traditional high school.”
Commonly, students have a blended schedule – with some classes actually at BHS – but also use on-line learning through Odyssey – the same company that provides the Compass learning program for the lower grade levels. Students also complete a career and lifestyle portfolio.
In 2010-11, 14 of 20 students graduated, in 2011-12, 15 of 22. This year, 13 of 17 are projected to graduate.
The fourth and final program – Second Chance – gives a small number of students the opportunity to learn in a work environment, such as Lavelle Industries.
Students do two hours of school, and then work for the rest of the day. It is a 40-hour week, and a 21-month program with no school breaks, snow days or vacations.
“These students always have to be going to work and school,” Oelslager said. “It’s just continuous.”
Students can earn up to $9 an hour, but wages can also be garnished for absence, bad behavior and bad attitude.
Both of BASD’s attendees graduated in the 2011-12 school year, and two out of three are projected to graduate this year. The third moved out of the district, and there are three juniors involved as well.
“Those three are loving life over there,” Oelslager said.
In total, 29 of BASD’s seniors are involved in alternative programs this year.
“I think we’re providing our kids some great alternatives,” said BASD School Board Member Rosanne Hahn.