Kennedi McLendon was unsure she’d be able to graduate on time from Spokane Public Schools this spring and was facing the possibility of another semester in high school.
But the 17-year-old had enough credits to fulfill state graduation requirements, and had taken a series of technical classes that align with one career path, so she’s eligible for a Career and Technical Alternative Diploma – a program the district piloted last school year and this week decided to continue.
“I’m very glad,” McLendon said. “It helps me a lot. And that my vet classes help me with my diploma.”
Spokane Public Schools created the program so students could earn a Washington state diploma, which requires 20 credits compared with the district’s 22. The students are required to take classes in one field at the North East Washington Technical Skills Center or a high school, with the goal of pursuing a postsecondary degree, a certified apprenticeship or military service.
The students may walk across the stage with their classmates during graduation, but their diploma has a different meaning.
“These kids would typically disengage and give up,” said Jon Swett, executive director of teaching and learning services at the district. “So instead of releasing them, we wanted to design a program around them and get them engaged and help prepare them for the next step.”
In addition to earning 20 credits, students have to pass the required reading and writing state tests and complete a culminating project. They must also develop a post-high school plan, filling out financial aid documents, taking a military or college entrance exam, and meeting with advisers. Students pick a career pathway through Career and Technical Education classes at a high school or the skills center.
As Spokane Public Schools moves forward with the program, school board members want to make sure students first aspire to earn the required 22 credits.
“I wouldn’t want it marketed,” board member Deana Brower said. “I wouldn’t want students using it to skate the system.”
Administrators say the eligibility almost works in reverse. A student who is credit deficient talks to a counselor or adviser who reviews his or her transcript. If the student is already headed in the right direction, such as taking more than one elective on the same career path, the student is informed of the alternative diploma.
Jeff Bierman, school board vice president, said he likes the program and wants to see “as many options as possible for students.”
That option was a relief to Jazzmin Belton. The 18-year-old, who is now attending Spokane Falls Community College, said the alternative program “gave me a lot of hope to graduate on time. Without it I would have been overwhelmed and stressed, and having the support every step of the way made a difference.”