Union Alternative High School kicks off first year

By Danielle Wiley-tribune, Associated Press | Posted - Sep. 12, 2015 at 8:20 a.m.


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NAMPA, Idaho (AP) — Union Alternative High School is doing something right.

This is the school's first year since it was created when Ridgeline Alternative High School and Parkview Alternative High School merged. The school's principal, Carleen Schnitker, said Union decided to toss away the traditional education model and is trying something new.

Students have more say, are applying for internships, work in large groups and have classes molded around their wants and needs. Teachers no longer sit at the front of the class to lecture but instead ask the students what they want to learn. The students are excited for school every day and are making leaps and bounds in their education, Schnitker said.

Bridget Dunn, 17, used to succumb to her social anxiety but is now making more friends every day. She's also started an internship at a local veterinary office. Last week she helped neuter a dog.

Crystal Espinoza, 16, is able to spend every lunch with her 1-year-old daughter before heading back to class. She's going to graduate as a senior this year, then she'll attend school for cosmetology.

Guadalupe Berber, 18, said he likes how the classes treat students like adults, which helps them become more responsible. He's applying for nursing internships at local hospitals such as Saint Alphonsus.

Bryce Dawson, 16, is ready to get his hands greasy with some car parts. Thanks to classes at Union, he's found his passion for automotive repair.

"We actually get to go to the classes we want to go to," Dunn said. "I have food and nutrition, but I also have a natural complexity of animals class."

"It's internship-based and interest-based personalized learning," Schnitker said.

Transferring about 200 high school students and 26 babies into a new facility farther away from the city wasn't an easy task, but Schnitker said the students have been flexible and helpful. Union is in the old Sunnyridge Elementary School building. During the day, students in class may help move new furniture or decorate the halls. The students also picked the color scheme and mascot for Union. They are now the Union Foxes.

Schnitker was the principal for both Ridgeline and Parkview. Both locations, she said, were too small to house all the students and more than 30 daycare children. Also, the schools used to facilitate the past Nampa School District expulsion program.

"We were running two separate schools, and it could be done more efficiently at one site," she said.

Allison Westfall, spokeswoman for the Nampa school district, said the previous expulsion program is no longer used and that Union is a choice for high-risk students.

"There was a niche program called Alpha One and TASKS, so if you were up to be expelled, you had the opportunity to go to the program," she said.

High-risk students include students who are at risk of being expelled, teens who find themselves pregnant in high school, students with learning disabilities, students with social disabilities and more.

Dunn said she attended six high schools in Nampa and Meridian before finding her place in Union.

"With the traditional model, kids were getting through school, but rarely you saw the light in their eyes," Schnitker said. "We just knew we could do it better for those kids."

This new model of learning is still fresh. Teachers and students are learning how to make classes more effective, but students and their parents are happy with the results. At the new building, there are no doors on the spacious classrooms. The gym is rather small, Schnitker said, but the teen parents are happy with the new daycare facility.

Schnitker said that the new model still meets Nampa school district and state of Idaho criteria, but it helps to give students the skills and experience they need to start their careers. Each student is required to fill out a "next step" guide, which helps them decide what colleges, technical schools or internships they will apply for after graduation.

"The teachers are advocates for us," Dunn said. "They are not here for a paycheck. They really care about the students."

One of the unique aspects of the new learning model is the lack of class schedules. Students sign up for classes and workshops, but there is no set start time and no school bells to tell them where to go.

Berber, Espinoza, Dunn and Dawson all said they feel more confident about their futures thanks to their education at Union.

"I think from being a mom, the school is really good because after high school I won't be lost," Espinoza said. "I've been working here so much, so once I'm out, I'll know my path to get where I want."

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Information from: Idaho Press-Tribune, http://www.idahopress.com

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Danielle Wiley-Tribune

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