Ascent High School giving students another option

Published: Friday, October 21, 2011 10:51 PM EDT

Tribune Staff Writer

BAD AXE — Some students excel in English, but not in math. Others feel at home in band, but would never try out for a sport.

Likewise, there are students who don’t quite fit into a traditional high school setting, but they flourish in a different setting that allows them to truly take ownership in what they’re achieving.

That’s the case for the 37 students attending the new Ascent High School, an alternative high school located in the former George E. Greene Elementary School in Bad Axe.

Every student is there for a different reason. While some are behind in credits, some are not. Some do very well in math, while others struggle. They come from various schools and backgrounds, but they all want to be at Ascent because they want to climb the ladder to high school graduation and post-high school success.

Currently, Ascent has students from Bad Axe, Caseville, Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Lakers, Harbor Beach and Ubly.

However, it is open to any Huron County school who wishes to refer a student.
Instructor Don “Rudy” Rudolph said when the program started at the beginning of the school year, school officials figured it would end up with about 15 students by the end of the first school year.

Having more than double that amount within the first several weeks shows there definitely was a need for such a program, and Rudolph is thrilled to be able to provide it for Huron County students.

Rudolph has two other alternative high school programs under his belt — one at Unionville-Sebewaing Area Schools and one in Sanilac County. Evidence of the success Rudolph has had with previous programs can be found at Ascent with Rudolph’s fellow instructor, Miranda Johnson. She is a former student of Rudolph’s from the Sanilac County program.

Johnson said she wasn’t a student who was behind in her credits — she simply needed a different learning environment.

“Students (in alternative high school programs) aren’t always in an at-risk situation,” she said.

She said the traditional high school setting didn’t work for her because she is very hands-on, and she needed to do more tactile projects. That’s why she attended an alternative high school.

“Normally, school teaches you what to think. An alternative high school teaches you how to think,” she said. “I learned problem solving and (other) life skills that really did help me, and I use them to this day.”

Rudolph is thrilled that Johnson is teaching with him.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to have a former student of mine teach,” he said.

Rudolph and Johnson said they’re glad the program is for students from multiple schools and grade levels, because the diversity gives them greater exposure and they can learn from one another. For instance, the students’ ages range from 14 to 19, and the older students can share their trials in life with the younger students.

“They can help the younger students stay on a positive track,” Johnson said.

Students are referred to Ascent High School by their home school. However, a referral doesn’t guarantee entry into the program.

“We interview every single student,” Johnson said. “They choose us as much as we choose them. We’re not right for everyone. And we don’t force students to be here. They’re here by choice.”

Johnson and Rudolph review each student’s transcript to see what the student needs. Every student follows the Michigan Merit Curriculum requirements for graduation, meaning they need four credits each of English and math, three credits each of science and social studies, two credits of a foreign language, etc.

“This is not an easier path to graduation — it’s a different path,” Johnson said.

She and Rudolph talk with each student and set up a plan to meet their academic goals.

“We’ll do what we need to meet their needs,” Rudolph said.

Like any other high school student, each Ascent student has an Educational Development Plan (EDP), which is based on the career pathway chosen by the student. The work they do at Ascent follows that EDP.

The students are very involved in their school, Rudolph and Johnson said. In fact, the students came up with the school’s name, and they’re working on a school logo. They also had input in the student handbook.

“This is their place,” Johnson said, noting students have their own daily responsibilities to complete, such as cleaning bathrooms, getting lunch for everyone from Bad Axe High School, etc.

Rudolph said if any problem arises, the students and the instructors talk about a solution as a group.

“It’s not us versus them,” Rudolph said.

Some students are at Ascent all day, while others are there for a portion of the day. Some attend the Huron Area Technical Center.

While students take online classes to reach their credit requirements, they don’t just sit and work on computers every day. They do a variety of activities, including group activities. There is a list of future projects on a whiteboard, including carving pumpkins, designing brochures, fundraisers, etc.

On one recent school day, Rudolph had the students gather in a circle, and one student at a time would stand in the middle and ask a question starting with, “Have you ever?” For instance, one student asked, “Have you ever stayed up all night?” The students who had all stood up and they all scurried to sit in another chair, kind of like a musical chairs game. The student who doesn’t have a seat is the next one to stand in the middle and ask, “Have you ever?”

Rudolph said this game allows students to find common ground and to connect with one another.

Another activity had Johnson and a student show other students quirky skills they had. Once a student was able to do the skill, that student then showed another student how to do it. Rudolph called it a “peer teaching” activity. He said it lets students share skills and knowledge and encourages them to help one another.

Ascent High School offers students various opportunities to build leadership skills and develop problem-solving skills and a deeper level of thinking. Rudolph said students have went to other schools and the Covenant Hills Camp in Otisville (where Rudolph is from) to do leadership activities with younger students.

“They are really neat opportunities for the students,” Rudolph said. “They’re not just reading about leadership in a book — they’re out doing it.”

One of the Ascent students, Tyler Gray, said he liked working with seventh-grade students at Covenant Hills camp. He saw how the students had different personalities, but they were able to work together.

Gray also found something out about himself.

“I did really well with the kids,” he said.

Derek Kildow and J.P. Deer also worked with seventh graders at the camp, and they felt rewarded by having the youngsters listen to them as they were leading the activities. They found out they could be leaders and could teach others how to be leaders.

“I was able to show the kids that in order to get through stuff (in life), you have to be able to work together,” Deer said.

Brittany Bowers, another Ascent student, lead groups of sixth-grade students in activities at a school at Linden Community Schools.

“The kids had really smart ideas. They’re better learners than you think they are,” she said.

Fellow student Jay Kimball said he enjoyed seeing the younger students help one another out, and he enjoyed being able to help get them focused and help them learn more about themselves.

Ascent students also take part in rock climbing, high ropes and other confidence-building and team-building activities. They even get to do art projects.

No matter what they’re working on, the students are gaining real-world experience that will prepare them for life after high school, Rudolph said.

He and Johnson are proud of their students and what they’ve been accomplishing so far.

“We have some great kids,” Johnson said. “We want to help nurture them for the next step in their life.”

She said she would like Ascent High School to build more bridges with the community, so students can get real-life experience while benefiting the world around them. For instance, she’s planning to have students get involved with Habitat for Humanity.

Because of the higher-than-expected enrollment, Rudolph and Johnson would like to have another instructor or a paraprofessional come in. Because some students need extra help with math, it would be ideal to have a math teacher come in, perhaps on a part-time basis, Johnson said.

Rudolph and Johnson invite people to come in and view Ascent High School. They said they don’t want the school to be some kind of mystery — they want the community to know what it’s all about.

“This is a fresh start for all of our students, and because of the opportunities they have here, they hopefully will be more productive citizens,” Johnson said.

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