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Alternative middle school moves into Brentwood Darlington Community Center

by: Merry MacKinnon, Harth Huffman, a teacher at Mt.Scott Learning Center’s middle school, and Kathy Lawrence, a  counselor at the school, start work this month in the Brentwood-Darlington Community Center, which is now home to the alternative middle school.

Brentwood Darlington Community Center provides services to many groups, but never before has it housed a middle school. However, beginning this month, twenty middle school students will attend classes inside the community center, which is located at 7211 S.E. 62nd.

The private, nonprofit Mt. Scott Learning Centers Middle School moved into the location after leaving its previous location, in a church at 3411 S.E. Gladstone, following a rise in rent there.

Sometimes, supplying just a few additional ingredients which students lack in public school add up to success at an accredited alternative school such as Mt. Scott Learning Centers. Because such students often feel out of place in public school, where 'cliques and clothes' may reign, MSLC Middle School's small, gender-separated classes, individual counseling, and intense parent involvement encourage students to 'come out of their shells'.

'These students feel overwhelmed in the public school. It just crushes them. Here, we can nurture them in the classroom,' says teacher Harth Huffman. 'They become more confident.'

In his experience as a teacher, Huffman has learned to avoid what he calls an 'overbearing' approach, particularly when he's seeking to inspire students to read. For example, one student, apathetic about most literature, brought a controversial book to school, written by a talk show host often regarded as sexist.

Rather than confiscate the book, as had already happened to the boy while in public school, Huffman tried a different tack: 'The student said to me, 'You're not going to let me read this, are you?' And I said, 'I don't care what you read.' After that he started to trust me.'

After that, Huffman, who really DID care, was able to cultivate within that student a taste for other types of books, one of which was 'James and the Giant Peach' by Roald Dahl.

Many of the students attend the alternative school not because they're disruptive, but because they are intensely shy, and for that reason were not succeeding in public school.

'The kids say they're not 'preps'. They call themselves 'rockers', and they react against the mainstream,' reports counselor Kathy Lawrence. 'They blossom here because of their relationship with their teachers.'

Meanwhile, several areas of the Brentwood Darlington Community Center are now set aside specifically for the use of the middle school. Consequently, the center has stopped renting out space for weddings, receptions, and other events. Education now comes first there.