|1/24/2017 7:26:00 AM
LUHS graduation rate increases 10 percent in eight years
Alternative education options at heart of increase
Lakeland Union High School has seen progressively higher graduation rates over the past eight years.
In June of 2009, the school's overall graduation rate was 83.7 percent and as of June last year, that rate increased to 97 percent.
What makes these numbers particularly noteworthy is the increase in Native American graduates. In 2009, the school hosted a 56 percent graduation rate for this nationality.
Last year that statistic was 86 percent, an overall increase of 30 percent.
The reason for these dramatic increases can be contributed to three programs LUHS has implemented or enhanced over the past eight years.
"We've kind of gone off the term, 'Failure's not an option,'" district administrator and principal Jim Bouché said. "We won't allow you to fail, we're going to help you as much as we possibly can. Together with our students and parents, that makes all the different in the graduation rate."
Alternative learning opportunities
The largest factor in the school's elevated graduation numbers is the expansion of their alternative learning opportunities.
Where special education assists students with special needs and disabilities, alternative education assists students who are on a path to failing out of school. Oftentimes this happens because of personal circumstances, a lack of focus or a lack of motivation.
After the 2008-09 academic year, the LUHS faculty studied the graduation rate and began a collaborative effort to address the needs of students in danger of falling off the graduation path.
One element the faculty implemented is the General Education Development (GED) Option 2 program.
"Students who have made bad choices and failed a lot during their freshman and sophomore years," Bouché said, "we're able to catch them their junior and senior years and put them into the GED program in order to get a diploma."
Bouché said the program was implemented during the 2009-10 academic year and results were visible the following year.
He said the program is particularly important now that all branches of the military require incoming personnel to have high school degrees.
"This gives students who have made bad choices and are now trying to catch up, an opportunity to have a high school diploma and have those opportunities at the end," Bouché said.
The second element implemented in the school regarding alternative education is LUHS Academy. The program focuses on freshman and sophomore students who are at risk of failing out in the future.
"Every student learns at a different rate," Bouché said. "This program is to help make a big school small. If you can make the number of individuals to work with smaller, you can find out their learning styles. You can help them work with the teaching styles of teachers as the teachers work with the learning styles of students."
Students are placed in the Academy program as incoming freshman based on test scores and evaluations both by their previous teachers and the high school staff. Existing students already attending the high school can be transferred into the Academy program as well.
"We have four teachers in the freshman Academy and four teachers in the sophomore Academy," Bouché said. "They focus on that select group of 45 to 50 students from each class to really get them moving forward."
Each teacher in the Academy program specializes in math, science, social studies or English and students received additional assistance with studying and note-taking techniques.
"And because the numbers are small and the teachers all have the same students," Bouché said, "they can work together collaboratively to really affect students right from the beginning."
Students transition out of the Academy program after their sophomore year and continue forward in the school's mainstream classes.
LUHS Virtual Learning Academy
The third element contributing to the school's rising graduation rate is the LUHS Virtual Learning Academy.
This program offers classes online and is part of the school's alternative education program as well their mainstream curriculum.
"We have students who are completely virtual and we have students who are half virtual and half in the building," Bouché said. "It helps with distance problems we've had for some students or work problems."
The program is particularly helpful for students participating in a youth apprenticeship and need to miss the final two hours of the school day. Virtual Academy allows these students to receive credit for their work while taking classes online.
The classes offered online range from credit recovery and assist students in graduating on time to AP courses not offered on the physical campus.
The LUHS student body currently sits at 710 students and 101 students are enrolled in Virtual Academy courses.
"Our students are given the opportunity, they just have to take advantage of that," Bouché said.
All three programs have worked together to help raise LUHS's graduation rate over the past eight years, however the ultimate goal of the school is to rely solely on two of the programs.
"What we're hoping to do with our Academy and Virtual Academy is to eventually have the GED Option 2 program go away because we won't need it anymore," Bouché said.
Because the Academy and Virtual Academy programs are preventative and assist students in working through special circumstances, the school hopes the GED Option 2 program will no longer be needed one day.
"It's amazing how things have transpired," Bouché said. "With the programs we started and having our teachers working together collaboratively and moving our students forward, we have a better understanding for when they come into the school."
A future boost
With a charter school for special needs students on the horizon, LUHS graduation statistics might receive a further boost in the future.
According to Bouché, the charter school would be under the auspice of all five Lakeland area school districts. Students would still be enrolled in one of the individual schools, they would simply use the resources of the charter school.
This means the students would still graduate from the individual schools and there's potential for the graduation numbers to continue to rise.
"There's a lot of collaboration going on behind the scenes," Bouché said. "It's very exciting to see all five of our schools working together like this."
With the introduction of the charter school, collaboration among the five schools has increased. The special education departments from each school have come together to work with parents and additional educators, discussing the needs of the students and community as well as the best approach to fill such needs.
Bouché said collaboration among the schools is a key factor in the success of any student, not just those with special needs.
"I see more collaboration across the board in the Northwoods and that's exciting," Bouché said. "When we can connect elementary, middle, high school, college and go all the way up, then we're doing what we should be doing in education and that's getting our students ready for the next step."
Jessica Leighty may be reached via email at .