BY LEANN DILBECK –
Students from Mena’s AE Classroom recently collaborated with the school’s wood shop class and made wooden Christmas trees to donate to CASA Director Cynthia Martin for area foster children.
Martin thanked the students for their hard work and for brightening the lives of other children. “It’s going to mean a lot to them that you all went through the effort of making something special for them. This time of year is a difficult time for those children who don’t have their families. I want you to know how much I appreciate it and how much they will appreciate it.”
This project is just one of several that these students will be responsible for this year as their instruction team develops individual plans that help these “not so cookie cutter” students to thrive to their full potential, all while learning about multiple job and career opportunities available in their local community.
AE is an acronym for Alternative Education or ‘at risk’ students. These students may not be best suited in a traditional classroom or may be at risk of not graduating. One member of the AE instruction team, Bridget Buckley, works to tailor their schedules to the student’s exact needs. Shanda Craig who works as a behavior interventionist in the program explained, “We try to accommodate our students according to their needs. We meet them right where they are when we get them and then build from there. We can’t expect a student to know what is expected if it’s never been expected of them.”
Guest speakers are invited to present each month. “In August, we took a field trip to the Humane Society and loved on all the pets,” said Craig. Students then spearheaded a pet food drive to assist the Humane Society. Volunteers from The Crossing have done presentations on changing a flat and the oil in a car. The Extension Office presented the ‘Get Real Here’s the Deal’ and students have been able to make field trips to Martin Marietta and Repops. Army recruiter Staff Sgt. Officer Schell spoke with the students on the significance of Veterans day.
“We are trying to involve the community as much as possible so our students can see what/who all there is in our community. We want them to see that there is more than college to be successful… also for our community to understand our kids in AE are wonderful, kindhearted, loving people.”
Craig explained that students work on a reward system. “When our students enter AE, they are given a student action plan. They are given goals that must be reached for success in AE. Once this plan is created, then we create a point sheet. This point sheet follows them to every class everyday. They are given points based on their goals. An example of a goal might be attendance, for some coming to school is difficult, so they are given points if they show up. We set a goal of getting at least 80% each week on their point sheets. If they reach the 80% goal they move up levels.”
Another part of the AE curriculum is a service learning project. Some of the AE students spend half of their days at Holly Harshman, Louise Durham and Middle School helping teachers and students. “They help the teachers with whatever they need help with, and work with students that need a little extra attention.”
Bridget Buckley, Ryan Luttmer, and Mack Chermak are the three full time instructors in the program and according to Craig, “They are a wonderful with our students, they take each of their needs and current situations into consideration. Mike Hobson is the AE director. We all work as a team, Mike is a wonderful leader, he gives us some railing and we try to keep it in between. At the end of 2016-17 school year, Bridget and I got together and made a plan for who we would like to have and the trips we would like to take. We have so much more flexibility than a regular classroom. We can be more creative to allow our students the ability to succeed. We are constantly working to change the face of AE. It is truly an alternative learning environment – a different way of learning. It’s a place for the not so cookie cutter student to thrive.”