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Park Rapids ALC offers students 'a safe place'

The Alternative Learning Center (ALC) at Park Rapids Area High School offers students who are struggling many alternatives to help them reach their goals.

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ALC student Angela Greenfeather said coming from Pine Point School on the White Earth Reservation, 20 miles from Park Rapids, it was hard to fit in with students who had been together since kindergarten. She said in the smaller setting offered by the ALC, she has found acceptance and a feeling of belonging, along with academic help. Contributed / Lisa Coborn

Lisa Coborn and Terry Schroeder coordinate and co-teach the program, which receives help from grant funding and local organizations.

Coborn said attendance is one of the biggest issues students face.

“A lot of the students are also struggling with other issues,” she said.

She said the pandemic has been hard on students, particularly students who are already struggling.

“Their lives were completely thrown into turmoil, and some of them were already in turmoil before that with their family or living situations,” she said. “During distance learning they were isolated, and then coming back has brought up a lot of anxiety in many of our students. They got used to not being around people, so it was hard to come back again.

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“I’ve noticed a lot of students struggling with mental health. They need to get back to that structure, and it helps if their parents help with that, too. It’s hard when many of the parents are struggling, too.”

ALC students have mental health resources available as well as additional educational opportunities, including help from staff after school.

“Terry runs the ALC work program, which includes job shadowing and on-the-job training,” Coborn said. “Students also plant a garden in the spring and harvest it in the fall and take cooking and nutrition classes through the Hubbard County Extension office.”

She said building relationships with each student is an important piece of the ALC. “Our students know they can come with whatever’s on their plate and we’re not here to judge them or their situations. It’s my job to help them navigate so they can get to school, get their driver’s license so they can hold a job, get them resources to take care of their mental health.”

Coborn said the state has “qualifiers” for students to attend the ALC, such as being behind in credits, being a teen parent or having mental health or substance abuse issues. “We have also had students who are struggling and are able to pull them for a couple hours a day to lighten their load a little bit.”

Night school is another option offered by the ALC from 3:00 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. “We want to help students get caught up so they don’t end up in their senior year half a year behind,” Coborn said.

ALC is a ‘safe, open place’

Kris Wilkins is new to the program this year, having previously attended the ALC program in Detroit Lakes. A senior, he said the ALC has helped him a lot.

“Before I went to the ALC, I struggled with classroom learning,” he said. “The ALC is more focused towards you instead of the group, so you can go at your own pace and get help with what you need. It’s intervention-based, and they work with you one-on-one, which I find great.”

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Wilkins spends the first five hours of his day, and attends band in choir in the mainstream high school.

“After I graduate I will be applying to the Aveda Institute in Minneapolis in aesthology, the science of skin,” he said.

He said art and creativity are involved in his future career and in the ALC as well. “That’s one of the things I love about the ALC,” he said. “If I am having a rough day, we have an art room in here and there are always new ideas to try. For me art is very therapeutic. It’s a great way for me to get some emotions out without having to talk about how I’m feeling.

“The ALC has provided me with a really safe and open place to express myself in. Nowadays it’s really hard to find that in a classroom setting. ”

Wilkins said the ALC is especially important for students who struggle with attendance or procrastination. “They really help you get your work done,” he said. “They try to keep you on track so you don’t have to worry as much.”

Finding acceptance

Angela Greenfeather is a junior. She came to Park Rapids Area High School after graduating eighth grade from Pine Point School on the White Earth Reservation, 20 miles from Park Rapids.

She said going to a much bigger high school was a challenge.

“Everyone was in a clique and it was hard to find friends, because everybody already had friends,” she said. “I first heard about how good the ALC is from some of my friends. I came down here because during the pandemic I struggled with doing online school, when it was all distance learning at first. When we came back to school, that’s when I started going to the ALC.”

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Greenfeather said when she was in the main high school, she didn’t feel like she fit in.

“It was hard going from a small school to such a big school,” she said. “Everyone felt judgy. It felt crowded and like I couldn’t get anything done because I couldn't go one-on-one with a teacher.”

She said when she first walked into the ALC it felt very comforting.

“There was a small group of people and you can talk to people without worrying about groups,” she said. “In the main school there’s groups of people and you stick to your group. Here everyone talks to everyone.”

When she finishes high school, Greenfeather’s dream is to go to college and major in business.

“I just came to the conclusion that’s what I’d like to go to college for,” she said. “It’s the only thing that really caught my eye for something to do in my life and my career.

“Right now I’m just trying to catch up on credits.The teachers help and support me. If I get stuck they will talk me through it. Here the teachers really get to know you, not just you in your academics. They know your struggles, so if you’re having a bad day they know how to help you through it, resolve it and try to get homework done at the same time.”

For more information about the ALC, contact Coborn at 237-6629 or principal Jeff Johnson at the high school office.

Donations of socks in all sizes are welcome. They are given to reward students for meeting their goals.

“We need both mens and womens,” Coborn said. “They like fun designs in colors and white socks too. Some kids like the short ones, others longer ones. We’d also love gift cards to local restaurants. Food is a great incentive.”

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Kris Wilkins said art is very therapeutic for him and having an art room in the ALC helps him get some emotions out without having to talk about how he's feeling. Contributed / Lisa Coborn

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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