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Rutland High School’s alternative education class of 2018 is shown Friday at the Howe Center. Moran and on the right is Jenn McLemore, one of the teachers. ROBERT LAYMAN / STAFF PHOTO

Applauded by family, friends and teachers, seven students graduated Friday from Rutland High School’s Howe Center campus.

Vanessa Cable, Justin Clark, Sierra Madison, Dakota Mitchell, Brianna Sauve, Trevor Stacey and Mackenzie White will receive their diplomas with the rest of the Class of 2018, but Friday marked their completion of the alternative education program.

Madison spoke about a ” common misconception” that students who do well academically don’t need alternative education opportunities.

She said she had gotten very good grades until her junior year and said the problem was not that school was too hard or she didn’t understand the lessons.

“Everyone learns thinks and grows in different ways, so it’s not odd that your typical high school teaching techniques and environment wouldn’t be for everyone,” she said.

Madison, one of two student speakers at the graduation, said she was considering dropping out, even though she had the ability to do well in school, until she was accepted at the Howe Center where she had more teacher interaction and didn’t feel “the social pressure of having to have the right answer to every problem.”

“My senior year, I decided to switch to an alternative learning program which ultimately brought my grades back up and helped me progress through school,” she said. “At the same time, this lowered my stress and counteracted the dread I had every morning of having to wake up and go to school to fail.”

Students were all given a plant a small gift to mark their successful completion of classes at the Howe Center campus, as well as hearing the predictions for their future from Howe Center staff which included Sauve opening the “Yo Bro Salon;” Mitchell becoming a manager at his current place of employment, Walmart; White becoming a nurse; Madison becoming a pediatric psychologist and Cable opening a pet salon.

T. J. Moran, a teacher at the Howe Center, said there were two other students who are done with their classes at the Howe campus, but they will finish their classes at the Stafford Technical Center. Those students will also walk at the summer graduation at Spartan Arena.

Moran said some of the students who were part of Friday’s ceremony were either planning to go directly into the workforce or continue working.

“We’ve had all sorts of different jobs that these kids have done and sometimes they learn,
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‘Yeah, this is what we wanna do’ and sometimes they learn, ‘This is not what I wanna do even through I thought I did,'” he said.

The Howe Center campus, which is led by educator Jenn McLemore, has been operating for almost 30 years.

Moran said the Howe helps students by providing smaller class sizes where teachers can give more individual attention.

“When people think of ‘alternative ed,’ I think a lot of times they discount the word ‘alternative,'” he said. “They somehow think it’s ‘lesser than’ because it’s not the standard course for kids to take. What we try and do, we try and break a piece of the main campus off, bring it down here and teach the same courses, hold the same standards, they do the same things, but we try to break them into smaller pieces.”

After the ceremony, Clark, the other student speaker, spoke about what the Howe campus meant to his success.

“They’ve given me a lot more education and a lot more help than the high school did,” said Clark, who wants to design video games. ” There’s more opportunities here than at the high school.”

Traci Madison, Sierra’s mother, said she was “absolutely thrilled” her daughter was graduating becaus, last year Sierra’s success in school wasn’t so certain.

“(At the Howe Center campus,) I saw a much lower stress level for her. She was less anxious,” she said.

Traci Madison said she was concerned that her daughter, who had done so well in high school, wanted to try alternative education. She said she and Sierra’s father were reassured after talking to teachers at the campus and learning some of what happens there, including that students must apply and earn acceptance into the program.

“I know the right decision was made,” she said. “She got up and went to school every day without having to be called . (and) without her coming home crying and being stressed out every day.”
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