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LR alternative school offers a different way to learn


Doing classwork on Chromebooks that the Alternative Learning Environment owns are, clockwise from left: substitute teacher Justin Abbott, Russell Nanamkin, Isaiah Michel and Emiliano Garcia. - Jacob Wagner photo

Traditional school isn't for everybody. For a variety of reasons, some students can benefit from a different model of education, and the Grand Coulee Dam School District offers an alternative.

Located in the former middle school, the Lake Roosevelt Alternative Learning Environment offers students the chance to earn credits at their own pace, in a way that better suits their needs.

"It's an alternative approach to the curriculum," said Mark Herndon, principal at Lake Roosevelt Junior/Senior High School.

About 25 students are enrolled in the program.

"For some, it's a more relaxing environment that allows them to get up and move around," Herndon said. "For some, they're parents or they're needing to work during regular school hours. For others, it's about catching up on credits. We have to be very flexible in our approach to their scheduling."

The program uses a competency-based grading system, which allows a student to earn credit by proving that they know what they are supposed to by taking a test, rather than having to spend all the time in a classroom seat as in a conventional high school. One student, who hadn't passed a course in conventional high school, earned half a credit in an hour and 15 minutes by taking the test assigned to the course, Herndon said.

Students are able to quickly make up past courses so that they are on track to graduate with their class.

"I was down a grade, so I came up here to make up my eighth grade in one semester," said Isaiah Michel, a freshman.

Michel is currently taking Art Appreciation, Physical Science, English 9, Algebra, Informational Technologies, and Physical Education.

"The thing I like about it is we all work at our own pace, and we can work from here or work from home, and it's all on a computer so it's really easy and we get a lot of help," Michel said, adding that the environment is easier to concentrate in because "it's a lot quieter than everybody yelling in a classroom."

The majority of the classwork is done on computers, with students able to work from any computer with internet access, be that at the school, at home, the library, or anywhere else. The students are allowed to use their phones, listen to their music, or watch videos, as long as they get their work done.

Brenda Mouzon is the teacher at the alternative school. Born in the Bahamas to Haitian parents, she holds a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Capella University, an online college based in Minnesota. She got her masters degree in education from Cambridge College in Massachusetts after getting her undergraduate degree from Caldwell College in New Jersey. She also has 15 years of experience teaching English.

"It's not like conventional school," Mouzon said about Lake Roosevelt Alternative Learning Environment. "The biggest success is they can go at their own pace. Some of them finish a nine-week course within three or four weeks, some of them take the full nine weeks."

Many students who plan to graduate from Lake Roosevelt High School use the alternative school to catch up on credits before returning to the conventional high school. Some students take classes at both schools. They may choose to do this if they are behind in credits in a particular subject, but are caught up in other subjects, or if they are interested in taking classes such as welding, auto shop, or band. The students are bused between the two schools as needed, as some take morning classes at one school, and afternoons at the other. Students are also able to participate in school sports.

Mouzon, along with paraeducator Becky Loch, helps tutor the students when they need assistance with their work. Mouzon also designs learning plans for each student to keep them on the path to graduation. Because they work at their own pace, students may graduate in the middle of the school year if that is when they finish.

The total 2016-17 budget for the Alternative Learning Environment, including salaries and benefits, is $130,319. Of that amount, the state funds $91,045.

Seniors who haven't graduated yet take precedence in enrolling in the alternative school, followed by those who aren't on track to graduate with their class, followed by everybody else who wants a different kind of learning environment.

"In my day and age, any of these little hiccups that these students have hit, they would have dropped out, they would have been done," Herndon said. "This is an opportunity to work in a different environment, at a different pace, and keep kids in school, or bring kids back who, for whatever reason, couldn't finish. We're really excited about the success we've seen here, and we hope to keep growing it and moving kids through."

During the fall semester of the 2016-17 school year, 20 students completed 118 courses at the ALE, many of them in addition to work done at the traditional high school.

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