• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

In our schools, Finding the right fit so students succeed

Woodford County High School senior Bailey Ingram was looking for an alternative when she started going to night school at Safe Harbor Academy. She’d always gotten good grades, but didn’t want to deal with the bullying at WCHS anymore.

That’s when a guidance counselor talked to her about two alternative programs being offered at Safe Harbor Academy beginning this school year. Bailey was a little apprehensive about going into a new program, but needed a change.

“I feel a lot better,” said Bailey, who started in night school in December before moving onto WAVE (Woodford Academy Virtual Education). “Not to be rude, but I don’t have to see those people (who bullied me) anymore – that did that to me … It’s just peaceful, very peaceful not having to deal with that any more.” Knowing she will graduate this year makes her proud of what she was able to do.

Safe Harbor’s night school and WAVE programs were both designed to meet the individual needs of Bailey and other students in Woodford County Public Schools, according to Principal Logan Culbertson.

He described night school and WAVE as options for students with needs that cannot be met in a traditional classroom. For example, students may have specific family needs, or they may need to work or pursue a daytime apprenticeship.

“It’s not meant to be anything other than a different route,” explained Culbertson of night school and WAVE. He said everything depends on what’s the right fit for each student.

A student might be most successful in Safe Harbor’s day program, which offers direct and computer-based instruction in a smaller social environment than a traditional middle or high school.

But because students may have specific needs that cannot be met in Safe Harbor’s day program, two new programs were put into place this year. Safe Harbor’s night school and WAVE programs are a part of the district’s restructuring of its alternative school education, which became a possibility when the Methodist Home moved its residential program and other programs for youth to a new campus in Jessamine County.

With this school year’s changes, new options in alternative education are available for students to pursue a high school diploma, said Safe Harbor social worker Lesley Gilpin.

She described night school and WAVE as alternatives for students who are missing a lot of school because of chronic health issues.

“Because they can do a lot of (their school work) at home they’re able to keep up and not get behind,” she said.

Students battling depression and other mental health issues may need a smaller learning environment. Or students may need to hold down a job during the day to help their families financially “so this allows them to play that role in the household,” while keeping them in school, Gilpin explained.

“All of these options, I think, have helped a variety of students be able to finish up public high school,” added the WCHS graduate. “…I’m very thankful our district has branched out to offer” these alternative paths to a high school diploma.

Everyone accepted into Safe Harbor’s night school have classes, from 4 to 6 p.m., every Tuesday and Thursday. If students are showing adequate progress in core subject areas after eight sessions of night school, they are eligible for the WAVE program.

That was Bailey’s alternative education route.

Culbertson described a student in WAVE as “self-motivated, someone willing to advocate for their own education, but said, “there is no specific mold” for success in night school or WAVE.

Some students who apply for the WAVE program realize they need the consistency of night school so they’ll return to night school, he said.

“There’s going to be some (situations) where it’s not going to be the right fit,” Culbertson explained, “but we’re not going to know that until we try. Our philosophy is we won’t be afraid to fail.”

Different learning environments can be tried for students who are not successful in one program, he added.

He said students in night school and WAVE spend six to eight hours a day doing schoolwork online using Edgenuity, a learning management system.

While Culbertson acknowledged that computer-based learning is different than a traditional classroom education, he described Edgenuity as being the “most rigorous program that we’ve found that is also student-friendly as well as interactive.”

An instructor provides direct instruction via video, with opportunities for additional support from teachers in Safe Harbor’s night school program and also through extended school services, Culbertson said. “So you have that human interaction in addition to the computer-based learning management system,” he added.

John Muenks, who has been a teacher at Safe Harbor for 12 years, appreciates being able to help students overcome a variety of challenges so they can succeed academically and become contributing members of the community. He enjoys being a part of that success, and described night school as an opportunity for students in some situations to finish their education.

Because students can move from one alternative program to another depending on their needs, Muenks said Safe Harbor can better “serve all of our kids.”

Bailey, who only needs math and English credits to graduate, views computer-based learning as a better educational fit for her. Learning is no longer hampered by classroom or social disruptions, which were an issue for her at WCHS.

Sixty students have been in Safe Harbor’s night school and WAVE programs this year, with 30 of them in the program as of late-February, according to Culbertson. He said students, from sixth to 12th grade, are eligible to participate in the alternative programs, but most are high school students.

With more students now applying for admission into Safe Harbor’s night school program, Culbertson said he and his staff are “excited for the opportunity for growth.”

“As those needs of students change,” he added, “we want to support them wherever they are.”

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