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New Horizons: Alternative for learning success

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

(Photo)
Jane Ella Potashnick, a teacher at the New Horizons High School, works with a student in a business class at the district's alternative school
(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
New Horizons High School offers SHS students a choice

SIKESTON -- Drab gray lockers and water fountains have been given a fresh coat of "bulldog" red paint. Fallen plaster has been repaired, and new carpet installed at the old Bailey School on Moore Street.

But the building isn't the only thing with a new look. Students attending Sikeston Public Schools new alternative school, New Horizons High School, have also been given a fresh start.

"We're offering a chance for kids to succeed who, without our help, wouldn't be able to succeed otherwise," noted principal Lynn Crader.

Generally thought of as the school for delinquent students, Crader insisted that's no longer the case at New Horizons, which officially opened its doors last Tuesday with 76 students in attendance. Since then, enrollment has climbed to 88 students.

"These kids aren't here because they have behavior problems. They're here because they want to be here," Crader said.

Payton Hunt, a sophomore at New Horizons, is one of those students.

"I quit high school last year and Mr. (Tom) Williams (Sikeston Senior High principal) told me about this school. So I decided to give it a try," Hunt said.

So far, everything's going pretty good, Hunt said with a smile.

"It's better 'cause there's more one-on-one," Hunt said, continuing: "It's just smaller here, and the teachers are really nice."

It doesn't feel like high school, agreed junior Casey Baker. It's a lot more fun, she said.

"Even my mom's said I come home happier every day. Last year, I was always in a bad mood," Baker noted. "It feels like the teachers are more involved and everybody gets along better here."

Baker said she decided to attend the alternative school this year because of the smaller environment and because she thinks she can earn her credits faster.

Even though students are required to have 22 credits prior to graduating from the alternative school -- two less than the 24 required at a regular high school -- Crader assures classes aren't any easier at the alternative school.

Expectations are higher, Crader said. Students must have 75 percent competency on their work, whereas in the regular high school, it's 60 percent, he explained.

"The schedule is very flexible. Some students attend the alternative school for half a day and then go to the Sikeston Career and Technology Center for the rest of the day. And some stay here the entire day," Crader said.

School begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m., but don't think the students are getting cheated of class time.

"It's a full day because they make up a lot of time. Classes are scheduled in blocks. Classrooms are closer and lunch periods are shorter," Crader explained.

Core subjects like math, science, social studies and English are taught at the alternative school, along with a couple electives such as physical education and music.

"It's a true alternative to going to the regular high school," Crader said. "The alternative school is for students who, for a variety of reasons, don't want to attend the regular high school."

Even though there are few differences between the two, the alternative school does follow the same policies as the regular high school, Crader said.

Students can participate in regular high school events, Crader said. They can go to the games and dances, but sports participation is worked out on an individual basis, he added.

In addition to the alternative school, older kids with discipline problems are referred to the alternative school, which is what the building's been used for in years past. BARC, or Bulldog Academic Resource Center, which is for grades 3-8 is also housed on the campus and takes place in the new four modular units outside the school building.

"Most of New Horizons students are on a mission by choice," Crader said. "I told them on the first day: 'You have to have a businesslike attitude, but have fun at the same time.'"

Also, for the first time this year, counselors are on the premises and looking over the students' files, making sure the students are fulfilling all of their credits, Crader said.

One of the main policies of the alternative school is mandatory parental involvement, Crader said.

"All of the teachers have phones in their classrooms so if a student is having a problem, teachers can just pick up the phone and contact the parents," Crader explained.

While parents are notified for discipline problems, they're also notified for positive things, Crader pointed out.

"It takes time to look for the positives, but these kids are used to their failures being pointed out," Crader said. "We want to bring out their good sides."