A new solution
Center gives troubled students a second chance
Tracy L. Brady
This alternative school is not a dumping ground for students or teachers.
"Our school is an alternative to a traditional classroom setting for the students and us," Morgan County Learning Center language arts and social sciences teacher Layne Dillard said. "It's not traditional, but traditional obviously hasn't worked for these students in the past."
The Morgan County Board of Education closed two alternative classroom settings at Danville and Brewer high schools last spring and opened a centralized alternative school in August to service sixth through 12th grade students across Morgan County.
The new educational facility serves as an alternate to expulsion for students with on-going behavioral problems.
"This is the last stop before someone is expelled," MCLC Principal Billy Hopkins said. "It affords at-risk students a chance to continue their education instead of stalling it."
According to Hopkins, plans for the new facility have been in the works for about two years. The building, located beside the Morgan County Board of Education on Point Mallard Parkway, and salaries for the principal, one teacher and a counselor are paid for by a federal grant designed to meet the needs of at-risk students. Only one teacher's salary is paid for with county funds.
"To be so affordable, I am confident this new school will be a great asset to the county school system," Hopkins said. "The superintendent and the board don't want to expel any student, and this school is the solution. We are making a great effort to keep students in school and decrease the drop-out rate in Morgan County."
An old problem and a new solution
One problem facing MCLC and the Morgan County schools system is the occurrence of student drop-outs at age 16. Four of the seven current students at MCLC are over age 16. All seven students dropped out last school year instead of taking advantage of the alternative classroom settings offered to them.
"But this is much better," one student said. "It has really given me a chance to get caught up on my school work and I like having an actual teacher."
Alternative classrooms at Danville and Brewer meant complete isolation from students and teachers for the duration of the student's punishment-usually 30 days.
"It's very different here," Hopkins said. "Students only spend one week in a cubicle away from the rest of the class, if there are no discipline problems. Teachers also work one-on-one with students instead of just monitoring their progress."
At MCLC, principals, parents and the board cooperatively decide to place a student in the alternative program. Students stay for a minimum of 30 days, but also have the opportunity to reduce or extend their stay based on behavior.
Aside from being away from their home schools, student driving privileges and participation or attendance of any extracurricular function in Morgan County are suspended.
Along with basic courses, MCLC students also participate in life skills, conflict resolution, leadership and anger management courses with MCLC counselor Lee Miller.
"The students are here to learn, but they are also here to change an inappropriate behavior," Miller said. "We don't want the students to like it here too much, but we definitely want it to be a positive experience."
Miller also offers one-on-one counseling at the request of the student.
A second chance
Having seven students return to an alternative school instead of dropping out is a positive sign for everyone at MCLC.
"One student called today to let us know the bus didn't pick him up," MCLC math/science/technology teacher Carmon Hogan said. "The students want to come here and take advantage of the second chance they've been offered. It's very rewarding to know they want to make a difference in their own lives."
Hopkins is pleased with the new facility and hopes he and MCLC staff will provide a great service to the students of Morgan County.
"It's truly a great opportunity and a second chance for students who otherwise may have never gotten one," Hopkins said. "Ultimately, we just want to do what is best for the students."