District focuses on dropouts

Off-campus alternative program being considered

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The Steamboat Springs School District is considering an off-campus alternative program for high school dropouts and expelled students.

The proposed program, which could begin this fall pending the district's ability to secure grant money, is in direct response to a "concerning" number of high school dropouts, Superintendent Donna Howell said Tuesday.

"The reality is we're losing some kids, and we have to provide some options," Howell said.

Last year, 28 high school students dropped out of school. Three students were expelled.

"That's almost 5 percent of the (high school) population," Howell said. "That's a lot of kids. It's very concerning, and that's why we're looking for some options."

Howell, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Kelly Stanford and high school Assistant Principal Mike Knezevich are developing the program.

The district is advertising for a teacher to direct the program and serve as a liaison between the high school and the alternative classroom, as well as work with community members and businesses to provide expanded learning opportunities for students who enroll in the program.

Howell said the district won't hire a teacher until it receives a $60,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Education. The program probably won't be implemented this fall if the district isn't awarded the grant.

An empty classroom in the district's central administration building would house the program. Online computer work, community connections and a curriculum borrowed from the high school's new Students Engaged in Active Learning, or SEAL, program are potential areas of emphasis for the program's academic base, Howell said. The alternative program's teacher would provide tutoring and individual instruction to students.

The district is projecting an initial program enrollment of about 15 students. The hope is that many of the students eventually would return to the high school, though Howell acknowledged that the alternative program might be the best long-term fit for some of them.

Howell commended the efforts of high school administrators and staff to keep struggling students enrolled. Students who leave school before graduation often do so because of outside factors.

"It's not because of a lack of what we're doing," Howell said. "There are a lot of factors in people's lives that result in those decisions. Sometimes you do everything possible, and for reasons beyond your control they've decided to leave school."

Still, the district needs to establish a formalized process for evaluating each instance of student drop-out, Howell said.

The off-campus alternative class would be the second program created by the district this year to meet the needs of students falling through the cracks of the traditional school setting.

The high school will offer the SEAL program to select sophomore, junior and senior students beginning this fall. The SEAL program will emphasize experiential learning and social and emotional skills in an individualized atmosphere. High school officials say the program will be as rigorous academically as traditional high school courses.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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