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Washington Voices

New Alternative School Inspires At-Risk Students

Thu., Nov. 28, 1996, midnight

Julie Rosenoff and Jana McKnight face an unexpected problem.

The two teachers, veterans with at-risk students, find that students in the new Barker Community Learning Center High School Program linger in their classrooms for more hours than they signed up for, Rosenoff said.

“We don’t want to kick them out.” Rosenoff said. “But it makes it difficult to work with them individually.”

Not a problem you would expect in a brand new alternative high school.

Rosenoff and McKnight have created the high school program in two classrooms - in a small school building that also houses toddlers and 4-year-olds - with a $25,000 budget and administrative support.

The program opened in early October and now has 30 students and, at least temporarily, a waiting list.

“We just need to catch our breath,” Rosenoff said. So many referrals have appeared that she and McKnight spend as much as a day a week interviewing candidates for the program.

That’s right, candidates. Not every student is allowed in.

“We actually turned down our first candidate who interviewed. We said, ‘We really like you but we think you have an excellent chance of succeeding where you are,”’ Rosenoff said.

One teenager who recently transferred from University High School said he liked the mix of individual attention and the high standards that Rosenoff and McKnight hold.

“They won’t put up with any weirdness,” said Ryan Doty, 17, after discussing what early American figure to research.

Indeed, the nearby classrooms of small children made it important that the high school students behave responsibly.

A contract required of all Barker Center high school students demands that they remove their hats in the building, wear clothing that’s appropriate for young children to see and that they agree to take a urinalysis if staff members suspect they’ve been using drugs.

“If a kid wants to wear baggy pants down to their knees … and purple hair, that’s fine. That’s their right. But not here,” Rosenoff said.

In return, the two teachers are flexible about hours, as long as students attend a one-hour core class daily, schedule weekly appointments with McKnight to turn in assignments and receive new ones, and put in at least five hours of work in Rosenoff’s room - the project lab.

McKnight acts as the monitor. Rosenoff acts as the research guide. “I like working in the trenches,” she said. Together, the two are a teaching team.

Each notices that the older students respond well to the younger children.

“We’ve been amazed at how well they’ve done. It’s really cool,” McKnight said. “We talk about what are the kind of messages appropriate to send to little kids, so that they know what to do when they get to school.”

Some of the students at Barker had trouble in a traditional setting. Some missed a lot of school due to health problems. Others have simply moved a lot. Some are parents.

Using equipment that the Central Valley School District acquired for teacher training, the program has 12 Power Mac computers.

The program offers courses in language arts, math, science, social studies, fine arts, physical education and electives. The required core classes give the students a chance to learn to work together, to address local or school issues.

A white board in McKnight’s classroom is covered with students’ names, their courses and the date their work is due.

“It is a lot of work. I’m working harder than I did at U-Hi,” said Deanna Moore, 16. “But they really work with you.”

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