It's 12:30 in the afternoon, and 17-year-old Jessica McCallum sits calmly
at her computer working on a Geography lesson. Her day has just begun at
Chief Leschi School and she'll go on to study English, Accounting, Math and
Social Studies until 5:30.
Not a typical schedule for a high school student: but Chief Leschi is not a
typical school. Great efforts are made to provide different types of
educational experiences for the myriad students who attend. In this case,
the Alternative Education Program is just the right fit for McCallum, who
has missed a lot of school due to illness since 8th grade.
This pilot program began in February and is aimed at students who would
otherwise not graduate because they don't have enough credits. Alternative
Education students are required to attend Monday through Thursday and some
computer-based work may be done at home and on weekends. Seven students are
now taking part in the program which enables them to receive personalized
attention and increase their chance of success.
Instructor Maureen Zarrella is committed to finding the best plan that
works for her students. "I tell them I will help them in any way I can to
reach their goals, but they must want it bad enough to show up and do the
work," said Zarrella, who's been teaching for more than 20 years.
Traci DeLosSantos was busy filling out an application to work at Safeway.
She and her classmates recently returned from a job fair at the Tacoma Dome
and were going over the best ways to present themselves on paper to
For her, this program was her answer to getting the credits she needs to
graduate in June. She quit school two years ago, had a baby, and is now
looking toward the future. At 19, DeLosSantos appreciates the flexibility
of the classwork. "I like the later hours. If my son gets sick I stay up
late and can make doctor's appointments in the morning," explained
DeLosSantos, who plans on going to college and pursuing pediatric nursing.
In addition to the core subjects, students visit local businesses, do
volunteer work and learn how to write resumes.
Zarrella said she approaches these classes similar to an adult education
instructor. "I tell my students they are in charge of how well and how fast
they want to progress. Many of the students are parents or live
semi-independently and respond well to being treated as young adults," said
"Hopefully, the Alternative Education Program can be the 'hand up' they
need to succeed. Our students deserve nothing less."