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A CALC-ulated school experience

Students who aren't succeeding at the district's traditional high school find a helpful option at the Community Alternative Learning Center
by: Chase Allgood Director David Burke, who came to the Community Alternative Learning Center three years ago, says a dozen students graduated June 4.

Just off Highway 47, past the Forest Grove National Guard Armory on Taylor Way, a school is nestled in an inconspicuous nook on a dead-end road.

In a building once used to manufacture pipes, Forest Grove's Community Alternative Learning Center shares space with the district's bus barn and a storage warehouse. The school, in a typical year, hosts about 100 students who aren't succeeding at Forest Grove High School.

'The problems they can't handle, we get to try," said David Burke, the school's director.

Students enroll at CALC for a variety of reasons, ranging from being expelled or having attendance issues, to being behind in the number of credits required for graduation.

Basically, it's a second chance at completing high school.

Burke moved from Forest Grove High School to CALC three years ago where, as director, he has become a jack-of-all-trades, teaching English, acting as a counselor to the students and helping with translations.

The self-paced program at CALC allows students to earn credit toward graduation by completing curriculum in packets prepared for them by teachers. Although the students work independently, they are divided into pods, similar to a class of students.

The individual pods rotate three times a day to study different subjects. Burke said teaching at CALC is very different from teaching at the local high school, because in one period he may shift from helping one student with a ninth-grade English packet to assisting someone else with their eleventh-grade English assignment.

About the people

But for Burke, teaching isn't so much about the material as it is the people. He planned to become a French professor when opportunity knocked 15 years ago. While working as a teaching assistant, he received a call from Forest Grove High School, where officials needed someone to help teach Spanish classes for a teacher who was going on maternity leave soon. He took the offer.

'I found out right away there is a wild difference between high school and college,' he said.

Burke said when teaching college students there is an emphasis on the material, unlike teaching high school where the focus is on the students themselves.

He recalled a time when, at Forest Grove High School, he was grading papers after class and a student came in to talk to him. The student asked if Burke would be able to watch his sports game that afternoon. Burke said it was then he realized that teaching high school meant that some of his students needed him to fill in gaps in their lives that spilled beyond the traditional classroom.

In addition to his academic and administrative responsibilities at CALC, Burke often goes to the storage warehouse next door where the district keeps surplus materials and looks for any usable materials for his students. Burke will sift through books that are about to be recycled or donated to find new reading material for CALC's students or tables and chairs for the students to use.

Still, sometimes the school needs to work around the available resources. Burke said there was a day when about 75 students came to class and the school ran out of chairs for everyone.

Burke also obtains materials from donors. He had wanted a hands-on activity for his students who tend to mentally check out during the last part of the day. Burke said he wanted students to start sewing projects and was able to get 10 donated sewing machines and 35 boxes of material.

'People will do amazing things if you ask,' he said.

This year, CALC graduated more than a dozen students on June 4. Burke said it's difficult to pin down how many students show an interest in college but that when he processes the senior surveys of the students going through the graduation process, more than half express an interest in going to college after finishing at CALC.

But for those who come to CALC ready to make the most of their second chance, they will find a school and teachers ready to help them earn their credits and graduate. Despite CALC's location on a dead-end road, Burke said, 'If a student comes ready to work, they will find their path greased.'