Second Chances: Cedar Falls Alternative High School furthers student potential, success

By Arlene Freudenberg 2009

Even the students at the alternative school enter with negative stereotypes of what’s to come, but once they begin, the images of adversity quickly evolve into real opportunity.

Nick Lamb, who has been attending the alternative school since last fall, escapes the stereotype.

“I got in trouble for skipping. My grades were falling behind, and I only needed four more credits to graduate,” Lamb said.

Virginia Boody has been attending the alternative school for approximately two and a half years now, and she definitely doesn’t fall into the stereotype, either.

“I missed a lot of school for a chronic illness, and I fell really behind and couldn’t catch up. It was either come to the alternative school or get held back a year. I didn’t want to get held back a year,” Boody said.

Boody was apprehensive about attending the alternative school because she was familiar with the negative stereotype against the alternative school.

“At first I didn’t want to come here because I thought it was where all the bad kids come, but now that I’m here, I don’t want to leave,” Boody said.

Transferring from the typical high school to an alternative high school is a substantial change.

“It’s weird because you don’t graduate at a certain time. When you finish all your classes, you’re done. So, the class size always changes. Some people come because they got in trouble for skipping; some failed a class and need to finish it to graduate,” Boody said.

“Most classes are done on computers, which means no homework. We use the Plato program. Classes are set up into three parts. First, it’s the tutorial part, which would be like the lecture. [Second], the application part which is the homework; [third], the test. It’s a three-hour day with a 15-minute break,” Boody said.

Core classes are not the only things different about alternative school.

“PE is different here. You have sheets to fill out. You exercise for 30 minutes outside of school, and you have to read a health-related article. You can also get points if you smoked and you’re trying to stop,” Boody said.

The three-person teaching staff also puts its own twist on helping these kids succeed in the real world.

“We do mock job interviews for one of our courses. We tell them if they don’t come dressed appropriately they don’t get their interview,” teacher Tom Bardal said.

The smaller atmosphere provides a different learning environment for them.

“You’re not under so much pressure, because you don’t have to stay up late to do homework. Because there are only 15 students, you can talk to [the teachers] more. If you need help, they’re always there. We know each other pretty well. They make suggestions for classes I should take. It’s a nice and laid back environment,” Boody said.

The students are not the only ones who sense these closer relationships between students and teachers.

“When they usually start they don’t know if they can trust us, but by the time they graduate they tend to come back and visit, send Christmas cards. They appreciate what we’re doing here, and that’s great,” Bardal said.

Boody learned the advantages of attending an alternative school very quickly.

“Most classes are done independently, so if it’s easy you can do it fast, and if it’s hard you can do it slowly. That’s really nice. It lets you understand at your own pace. No one falls behind,” Boody said.

Boody’s opinions on the school has changed greatly since she’s been attending it.

“The alternative school sort of has a bad connotation for being the school where all the bad people come. Those are only some students. There’s a lot of people here just because they failed or skipped a lot of classes. They are normal people here, too. It’s kind of a great mix,” Boody said.

The alternative school, like any other high school, has different colleges come to the school to encourage them to attend college.

“I plan on going to a four-year college. I want to be an art major, maybe doing something with biology and psychology too,” Boody said.

Alternative school teachers agree that their jobs are something they love to do, not just something they need to do.

“I like working here because every day is different. We never know what to expect,” school coordinator and teacher Charmaine Carney said with a smile.

Just walking into the door, it’s easy to see that the atmosphere is different. While being interviewed, Carney and Bardal couldn’t help but laugh every time they reminisced about past events.

“This used to be a City Hall, so every now and again, we’ll have people come in and try to pay off parking tickets. We lock the doors because we don’t want people to walk into the school and disrupt the kids while they’re working,” Carney said.

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