THE CHALLENGE: In spite of the best efforts of teachers and administrators, some kids simply don’t seem to fit into the traditional public school model. In the Nebraska panhandle, VALTS is their ticket to success.
THE CHAMPIONS: Kirk Begley, former principal at Scottsbluff High School and then principal at VALTS for five years, first proposed the concept that eventually became VALTS. He and a team toured alternative schools around the country to learn and finalize their plans. Beth Still and Brenda Smith, two of VALTS four core teachers, strive to correct the misconception that VALTS is the place where bad kids get sent. Their experience has proven that VALTS is often the learning environment that transforms struggling students into confident high school graduates.
THE SOLUTION: VALTS’ number one core value is mutual respect. Staff members are keenly aware of the personal challenges many of their students face outside of school, from homelessness, to parenting young children, to living in abusive homes. Every day a student overcomes those obstacles and walks into class is a small miracle.
Another key to the VALTS approach is a balance between core classes and work study. Students must work at least 20 hours per week, replacing the elective credits they would be required to earn at a traditional high school. They attend classes either mornings or afternoons. This combination of school curriculum and on-the-job training develops a more well-rounded and experienced graduate.
Communication at VALTS is decidedly nontraditional. Students call teachers and the principal by their first names, and everyone exchanges cell phone numbers. Teachers connect with students in the classroom face-to-face, and outside of class via text or email, through Facebook or Twitter, on Skype, and any other way that’s available. None of the usual restrictions apply, because helping students connect to caring adults is a key component of the program’s success.
Class sizes are small (8-10 per class), technology is seamlessly incorporated into daily lessons that include teacher instruction, group collaboration and individual study. Students are required to take the same state assessments as other high schools, and must meet the same graduation requirements to earn their diplomas issued by their home high schools. THE RESULTS: VALTS teachers credit their relationships with students, built on open communication and deep respect for one other, as the reason VALTS works when all other strategies have failed. Since its inception in 1997, 432 students have earned their high school diplomas through VALTS.
The program is so successful that the team at VALTS now opens its doors to others who want to learn from the program’s success.
RESOURCES: To learn more about VALTS, visit: http://valts-f.www.esu13.org/modules/groups/integrated_home.phtml?&gid=1835417&sessionid=