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Alternative schools increase graduation

WELLPINIT, Wash. -- An alternative education program in central Washington
is providing students with an opportunity to acquire high school diplomas
and thus enhance their job opportunities.

In the four short years since the program was initiated by Reid Riedlinger,
then-superintendent of the Wellpinit School District on the Spokane
Reservation, roughly 350 students have enrolled and about 120 now have high
school diplomas they likely wouldn't have attained otherwise. Many more
will graduate in the next few months. Reidlinger has since retired, but the
program continues under the direction of Jeff Adolph.

Just 21 seniors graduated last spring from Wellpinit's small high school,
but six of them were young people going through the alternative program.
Adolph explained, "We have kids that have bumps in the road like any other
district. We found a program that works pretty well for a lot of kids. The
basis of what we're doing is bringing in a computer and the Internet
service provider; the student has to provide a landline. They're hooked up
with our online curriculum and [we] let them work toward graduation. But
the program was costing us a lot of money and we needed a bigger pool of
students to spread the cost out."

An alternative program at Fort Simcoe Job Corps Center in the Yakima
Valley, which had been coordinated with another school district, was
recently shut down. The center needed a partnership to continue the
program.

Adolph got the two groups together to help spread the costs. Since then,
the Yakama Tribal School in Toppenish has joined and a classroom was set up
in the community of White Swan. Classrooms were also offered through the
Department of Health Services in Wapato. In the Colville area, one
classroom was established in Keller, another in Nespelem in conjunction
with the local school district and yet another at Paschal Sherman School.

The program was made affordable with the greater student numbers from this
group of locations.

Adolph is with the Wellpinit School District, which has an alternative
classroom with 14 computers. "The students work on lessons and then I help
when they have difficulties. A heavy concentration is placed on being able
to take notes and refer to them as they go through the lessons," he said.

Adolph explained how the program works. "NovaNET is the system we're using
and it's very effective because it has a pre-test for every subject. If the
student passes the pre-test with 80 percent or higher, they don't need to
do the lessons. If they don't pass the pre-test, the test is graded
immediately; it analyzes what lessons the student needs to take to be able
to pass the post-test and assigns only those lessons that are necessary.

"Another interesting aspect is that if a student misses more than 11 days a
semester, Washington law denies the student credit for the class even if
they carried an A average. It's just a fact they've missed that much seat
time. We have a lot of kids who have missed more than 11 days for a variety
of reasons -- perhaps death in the family, cultural events or whatever --
and they run afoul of the attendance requirement," Adolph added.

"Our program allows the student who has a pre-existing knowledge to take a
[preview] test, and if they pass with an 80 percent grade they get credit
for the course. It's a great credit retrieval tool for kids who have been
bumped around from school to school."

Adolph pointed out the goal has been to reach any rural, underserved and
preferably Native communities, although that's not one of the criteria.
Asked what percentage of the alternative students is American Indian, he
responded, "Locally, about 97 percent. In the Colville area it's about 80
-- 85 percent. At the Job Corps Center, because of the people they serve,
the numbers aren't so high so overall it lowers our demographics down to 79
percent. They're all students and they're kids, and in our program we don't
differentiate. Because our home campus is 97 percent Native American we
prefer to make sure the Native population is served, but we also have a
large number of other nationalities."

Adolph continued, "One of Reid Reidlinger's goals was to try to extend this
opportunity to any reservation in Washington that felt their students
needed an opportunity. Long-range, that is one of our goals."