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Traveling on the 'Road to Success'

ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Students in the Road to Success program appreciate the laid back yet productive atmosphere. When stepping inside of the Estacada’s School District’s new Road to Success program, the first thing you see is a colorful roadmap of goals that students made.

A two-lane road decorates the walls of the entrance hall, filled with goals that each student wrote such as “stay in school” and “graduate on time.”

The district launched Road to Success as an alternative high school learning program at the start of this school year, and 38 students are enrolled. This school-within-a-school program replaces the high school’s previous online credit recovery program.

“We wanted to create an opportunity for students who weren’t feeling successful in a traditional classroom to learn in an alternative environment specifically tailored to their needs, likes and dislikes,” said Elisa Gardner, program facilitator.

Students have already experienced success in the program’s beginning stages.

On Friday, Sept. 16, Principal Ryan Carpenter joined RTS students and Gardner to celebrate several courses that students had completed.

“Four total credits have been completed, and a lot more are at 50 percent or higher,” Gardner said.

Gardner hopes that the total number of credits that students in the program collectively complete per semester is 50.

“We hope to go even higher than that,” she added.

A typical day

One of the aspects of the program that many find valuable is that a typical day varies for each student in the program.

“Based on their needs, it’s different for each kid,” Carpenter said.

However, there are several similarities in the program’s individualized instruction.

Every morning, students gather in the three classrooms underneath the bleachers at the football stadium. Rather than desks, they sit on couches or at tables.ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Program facilitator Elisa Gardner works with junior Cheyanne Hughes in the school districts new alternative high school program. The program features a mix of small group and online instruction.

“It’s a different type of classroom than the traditional 30 desks in rows,” Carpenter said. “It’s more like walking into a Starbucks.”

Gardner makes a point to check in with students each morning.

“We all greet one another, and if they look or act different, I’ll touch base with them,” she said. “We’re usually able to do something to make their day better.”

At RTS, class times are divided into four hour blocks, as opposed to seven periods at the main high school campus. Courses are divided by subject rather than grade level and and feature a blend of small group instruction and individual online work.

Typically, a teacher identifies a standard that a group students need help with, while other students work electronically.

Through Odyssey, an education management software, students access a course that an Estacada High School teacher has customized for them.

“If a student has almost passed U.S. History but struggled on the last two tests, we can identify that,” Carpenter said. “Instead of starting from square one, they can start them from square seven, since they did well on those earlier units. (The instruction is) totally individualized.”

Students like the customized courses.

“It’s laid back but really productive,” said Cash Martin, a sophomore. “It’s easier to go at your own pace.”

They also appreciate the additional freedom that the program offers them. If they need to, students can go outside and take a ten minute break from their work.

“You can’t do that at the high school,” said Kendra Gile, a senior.

Though the curriculum is delivered differently, students learn the same topics that they would at Estacada High School.

“It’s the same rigor and same diploma,” Gardner said.

The last period of the day is dedicated to preparing students for life after graduation. Students and staff will discuss topics like how to maintain a good credit score and how to apply for an apartment.

Later in the semester, local business owners will discuss what makes a good employee, and students will participate in job shadows.

“We want them to have the skills and knowledge to be successful adults,” Gardner said. “We hope they take what they’ve learned, both academically and emotionally, and use it throughout life.”

A culture of their own

Students and staff at Road to Success describe the community as close-knit and productive.

A birthday board lists student birthdays, and the group celebrates whenever someone completes a course.

“There’s not any drama,” said junior Cheyanne Hughes, describing the overall environment as “mellow.”

Hugues appreciates the small group atmosphere. ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - The entrance to the Road to Success classrooms features a colorful roadmap of student goals.

“I’m not good with big groups,” she said. “I’m a lot more comfortable here.”

In the spirit of maintaining a safe atmosphere, staff at RTS emphasize a strict no bullying policy.

“It’s not accepted, it’s not allowed and it will have consequences,” Gardner said.

Though they’re in a different location, school leaders want to make sure students in the Road to Success program still feel connected to the main high school campus. If they’re interested, students can participate in electives, sports and clubs at Estacada High School.

“It’s open to them, but we also want to create a separate culture over here,” Carpenter said.

Both Carpenter and Gardner hope that the program will be truly shaped by the needs of its students.

Students influence many aspects of the program, from choosing what color to paint the third classroom to guiding the topics of weekly discussions with the school psychologist.

“Last week we talked about attendance, and what makes it difficult or easy to attend,” Gardner said. “(The sessions are) topical, and based on what (the students) want.”

Carpenter noted that student feedback is particularly valuable for the program in its early stages.

“We’re forming this together,” Carpenter said. “We’re continuing to listen to our students and accommodate what they think is best for this environment.”

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