The program allows students to spend an hour each day at Marengo High School to learn job skills and training, such as 3-D printing and robotics. The program was funded through a $40,000 Illinois pilot grant.
Regional Superintendent Leslie Schermerhorn said school officials applied for and received the funding last year, and they worked with Marengo High School teachers and administrators to establish the program and develop the curriculum. The grant helps pay for the instructor, materials and busing for students each day.
McHenry County students from various area schools attend classes at Evergreen Academy as part of an alternative education program. The Regional Safe Schools Program of McHenry County is designed for students in grades six through 12 who have been suspended or who face expulsion. The school also is open to students who have been involved in repetitive conduct or otherwise cannot attend their designated school anymore. The school typically has a class of 20 students but has had as many as 40 at one time.
Schermerhorn said the program aims to increase motivation and attendance at school.
“They can’t sit at a desk all day, because that’s counterproductive for many of them,” she said.
Students officially began the program at the beginning of the school year and have attended classes every day at Marengo High School unless there’s a scheduled holiday or day off.
Byron Stingily, principal and regional director at Evergreen Academy, said the program has boosted morale for many of the students, and regular attendance has increased significantly – a factor officials attribute to the students’ excitement about the program.
“You have so many kids with different talents and skill sets. I believe they should be exposed to as many different opportunities that they possibly can so they can find their way in life and figure out what they are good at,” he said.
Dylan Staggs, a 15-year-old student at Evergreen Academy, said he has had the opportunity to work on things he never thought he’d be able to do, including 3-D printing and robotics.
“I like hands-on activities – it really challenges the mind,” he said.
The partnership also helps to educate students and teachers about alternative schools and their purpose in communities, Stingily said.
“When you say ‘alternative school,’ people have all kinds of negative connotations,” he said. “Alternative does not mean that the kids are low-functioning.”
Schermerhorn said she plans to reapply for the grant if it’s available in the spring. Staff at Evergreen Academy, including Schermerhorn, also are working to have every student hired for a part-time job by the end of spring break. In addition to gaining job skills, students also will receive a grade for their time working.
The goals of these practical learning programs are to provide students with tools and knowledge they can use at their school and beyond.
“When students return back to their home schools, we are hoping to see them have more discipline and hope they can maintain their jobs or take courses to learn new skills,” Schermerhorn said.