New alternative ed program starts

ESCANABA – A new Escanaba Area Public Schools alternative education program will soon begin its first year.

The creation of the Escanaba Student Success Center, housed in the Wells School located at 5775 Main St. in Wells, stemmed from the Escanaba School Board’s approval earlier this year; at the time the board implemented the center knowing Bay Middle College had been having difficulty generating enough revenue through per-pupil funding to be self-sustaining.

Bay Middle College was discontinued after last school year due to such financial constraints, according to Escanaba Student Success Center Director Dan Seder, the former director of Bay Middle College.

“This Success Center is the third generation of alternative ed in the Escanaba area,” said Seder. “The Fitzharris Alternative High School was in place for many years. Bay Middle College was the next version of that and now we have the Success Center.”

He believes the center combines the best parts of both the Fitzharris and Bay Middle College programs, while adding new options such as online class opportunities for students.

“The Success Center is a seated program in the sense that students report every day from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday,” he said. “It’s a standard school schedule. They will have different class periods during the day. They have options to take their classes online, or if needed, through direct instruction, and we’re going to schedule that based on what our student needs are as we start the year.”

The program differs from the Escanaba Virtual Career Center, also housed in the Wells School, which is an “unseated” program that allows students to work from home and to report in a different fashion than with the Student Success Center.

Seder noted the Student Success Center offers students greater flexibility than the previous alternative education programs.

“Students can focus in on really what they need for graduation and they don’t have to worry about taking electives that they might not need,” he said.

However, Seder has also been working with Escanaba High School Principal Doug Leisenring to coordinate daily schedules so students can take advantage of elective opportunities at the high school or Career-Technical Education classes at the Delta-Schoolcraft Intermediate School District, working on their core classes at the Student Success Center later in the day. Dual enrollment at Bay College is also an option.

The program will include a strong focus on career exploration, post-secondary options, and employability skill development.

Students at the center must complete 20 credits to graduate – including all components of the Michigan Merit Curriculum. Like the former Bay Middle College, credits are awarded quarterly, not on a semester basis like most schools, in order to allow more flexibility when auditing transcripts and for students to keep credit already earned. Graduating students earn a standard high school diploma.

In addition to Seder, two other staff members will be employed through the Student Success Center – Instructional Facilitator Lori Reule and Student Support Specialist Mary Theoret.

The center is outfitted with wireless Internet access and will also provide students access to brand-new laptop computers.

Breakfast and hot lunch programs formerly provided at Bay Middle College will continue at the center. Transportation from Gladstone via bus services are also available to students free of charge.

As for enrollment, while Bay Middle College was an ISD cooperative program – meaning local districts granted permission for students to attend – Escanaba Student Success Center enrollment is wide open under “Schools of Choice.”

“Any student can apply and they don’t need permission so long as they apply during that ‘Schools of Choice’ window,” said Seder.

Students who apply after Sept. 5., though still eligible to attend, will need clearance from their home district’s superintendent.

Seder believes the majority of former Bay Middle College students will transition to the Escanaba Student Success Center this fall. His goal is to enroll close to the 74 students Bay Middle College had last fall.

“This is our peak application period and just even in the past few days I’d say we’ve taken in a dozen applications,” he said. “We’ve mailed out over 50 parent letters to students who did attend Bay Middle College in the hopes they will strongly consider the program.”

The development of an alternative education program is also currently under discussion at Gladstone Area Public Schools, according to Gladstone Superintendent Jay Kulbertis, who said the district has reached out to all former Bay Middle College students who were technically a Gladstone School District resident.

“All of those conversations are currently taking place as we’d like to put together a program that best meets their needs,” said Kulbertis.

But as for now, the Escanaba Student Success Center has held two informational meetings at the Wells School for interested parents, guardians, students, and any other individuals interested in the alternative education program. Two more meetings are planned for Thursday, Aug. 28, at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. The meetings include the opportunity to meet staff, receive a general overview of the program’s design, tour the facility and ask questions. No appointment or RSVP is necessary for the meetings.

For interested individuals, enrollment forms are available at the main office of the Student Success Center, which is currently open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and on the Escanaba Schools website at www.eskymos.com. Individual meetings can also be arranged by appointment. Interested students and/or parents may call the main office at (906) 553-7334.

For more information, visit the Escanaba Student Success Center Facebook page.