Prior to receiving my teaching license in 2004, I worked in a variety of social work settings: foster care caseworker outside of Detroit, Michigan; mission work in Poland and later amongst homeless street youth in Quebec, Canada; prevention specialist for the Area Substance Abuse Council in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and finally, full-circle returning as a supervisor in the same foster care agency in Michigan. Throughout those fourteen years, I worked in the public school system as a mediator (of sorts) for students who struggled, not only to learn, but who never felt welcome nor experienced success within the walls of a system that was based on an industrial mode of learning.
My thought was always the same, “If the public school system understood how these students and families think, they would not teach them this way.”
Fortunately, during my first teaching interview I was asked the question, “What’s your dream?” Shocked at the question, I excitedly went on to explain that my dream was to create a school system that entailed an entirely different way of thinking: “Believing that everyone is created for something great. For a purpose – a passion. This purpose can only be realized through relationships.”
The interview led to the creation of Quest High School, an alternative school that was born out of my world experiences, my passion and my faith. Within three years, Quest won several awards, including Alternative High School of the Year. The reason, I believe is because we (the students and I) developed what I came to refer to as a school system based on Positive Peer Culture (P.P.C.). I later learned P.P.C. was very similar to W. Edwards Deming management method that he instituted in Japan after World War II. A management system that transformed the ashes of the Japanese country and made them one of the most lucrative systems in the world in only a few short years.
Just as the American management system, and how it produced its goods was challenged by Japanese products over the last few decades, I believe our current public school system is also on the brink of radical change in order to meet the needs of its “customers” the students and families we serve. If you would like to learn more about the Deming Management System (I wrote about this last year in my blog) Google: W. Edwards Deming the genius who revitalized Japanese Industry. Go to link: https://deming.org/
How does this relate to Howard-Winneshiek's Alternative Program?
This relates to our program at Howard-Winn because as a team of educators we have been diligently working to make our program a Positive Peer Culture. Positive Peer Culture is not an industrial mode of education that is "top down" driven. It is in fact, "trusting kids to be great" and being in charge of their school culture. Over the past two years, Julie Montgomery, lead teacher, for the program has been partnering with our school administration, Success Program, NICC, students and families to bring this culture change to the program. Last year, the students and Ms. Montgomery visited a variety of Alternative Programs as well as investing their time in student leadership conferences to bring about this culture shift.
This year, it is becoming more and more obvious, that great things are happening with the program. Currently, there are 15 students in the program and 3 students graduated with their high school diploma in December. An additional blessing to the program is Mrs. Jennifer Scheidel, who is a full-time associate alongside Ms. Montgomery. The students report that "Mrs. Scheidel and Ms. Montgomery are a great team!" One student also added, that with the help of both of these educators, "He is making more progress on his diploma than he had ever hoped to make!"
Students Collaborating on Project
Additional benefits to the program this year is that we have expanded our teaching staff and our offering classes in the alternative building, alongside the online course offered. Casey Bouska, social studies instructor, is offering a Current Events Class; Denise Headington, School Social Worker, is offering a Social Thinking/Social Skills class; and Julie Montgomery is teaching Life Skills daily for high school credit. Nathan Thompson, NICC is a job coach as well as supports the students in finding job shadows and post-secondary opportunities. Brenda Lentz, Success Team, creates the classes the students need online through Edmentum online program and Trish Hartman, High School Guidance, places students in their classes and also oversees the graduation credits. Another benefit to our alternative students is that if they have good attendance, they can take classes in the high school building as well as NICC.
The students readily testify that they love the opportunities that are offered at the Alternative Program. This year, as additional classes, program expectations and the implementation of PPC has been progressing, there have been growing pains. Ms. Montgomery stated, "Our students need to become prepared to enter the work force or college. Attendance is critical in life, and so we have implemented Behavior and Attendance Contracts, to provide the additional structure and expectations that so many of our kids need."
It is obviously working. Yesterday, Bryan Sickles, a student who shares classes between the alternative program and high school classes, addressed a student to make them accountable because they were not on task. "You need to get to work! Graduation is coming soon, and I want to see you walking across the stage, just like I am going to do!" The student promptly got back to work. That is Positive Peer Culture!
The Alternative Program will be addressing the school board to update them on their program during the next school board meeting on February 13th. If you would like to hear more about the program, please contact me, Terese Jurgensen, and I would be happy to set up a meeting with the Alternative Program team of educators.
Have a Great Week!
If you need to reach me, Terese Jurgensen
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