The alternative high school honors 11 graduates with intimate ceremony

As an alternative high school principal, Bill Rogers has witnessed students travel all kinds of paths before finding their way to a diploma. by: SETH GORDON - Big year - Catalyst graduate Taylor Campbell accepts an award at graduation  ceremonies June 5. Campbell gave birth to her son in December, but continued working on her studies at home during maternity leave to pull off the rare feat of graduating in the same school year in which she delivered.

So by no means was it new to him last school year when Taylor Campbell became pregnant as a senior in the Newberg School District’s Catalyst program.

Campbell did, however, show Rogers something he had never seen before when she re-enrolled in the fall, gave birth to her son in December, took three months of maternity leave and still graduated, along with 10 other Catalyst students, June 5.

“We’ve had quite a few teen parents graduate over the years, but taking maternity leave and graduating that year is very unusual,” Rogers said. “Almost always that event sidetracks them for the year the baby is born, then the next year, if they’re incredible kids, they graduate.”

Campbell did it by continuing to work on her studies at home during her leave, but finding the motivation to do so wasn’t always easy.

“It feels amazing to finally be done,” Campbell said. “I’ve had a lot of help from my mom and my boyfriend, Dustin, and just people pushing me toward getting my diploma and behind me 100 percent.”

Campbell was just one of this year’s success stories, but Rogers believes a lot more be on the way next spring after the program introduced several changes during its first year of residence in the brand-new Springbrook Education Center.

In addition to the three students he expects to finish their graduation requirements this week, he believes next year’s graduating class will grow to 25 or more.

“There’s kind of a bubble of kids that got backed up last year,” he said. “They’re moving along, but they didn’t quite finish this year.”

Rogers attributed the bubble to increased graduation requirements, including a second year of a foreign language and passing Algebra II, enacted last year and has good reason to be optimistic.

Catalyst implemented a more assertive management style this year, with higher expectations for attendance and behavior, as well as a structure that includes built-in consequences.

The result was an attendance rate of 91 percent, which represents a significant jump up from averaging less than 70 percent for the previous five years.

“Many of our kids are essentially dropouts when we get them, so they come in the door woefully behind on credits,” Rogers said. “Getting them to come to school at 90-percent attendance, that alone is a victory. Once they’re here, we can teach them. If they’re not here, we can’t do much to help them.”

And while the number of graduates this year was down one from 15, the rate at which students accrued credits this year was up, which is why Rogers said he believes the number will rise toward the 2012 level of 30.

“What we’ve seen from the attendance improvement is that kids are beginning to pick up credits that they never did before,” Rogers said. “And we hear that from parents all the time, that they’re finally beginning to make some progress, they’re finally getting good reports from school.”

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