Ten years ago, Kettering City Schools was one of the first districts in the area to introduce an alternative for juniors and seniors who, for one reason or another, struggled with the traditional high school environment and were at risk for not graduating. The district has continued to innovate, and the Alternative School now includes programs for even younger teens.
Fairmont Principal Dan VonHandorf says the changes at the Alternative School are designed to help young students who aren’t quite prepared to start high school, let alone finish it. The need became apparent during a five-week summer program called the 8.5 program that evaluated students who had just finished 8th grade but struggled to succeed.
“The students are told during their middle school years that they might not be ready to transition to Fairmont,” VonHandorf said, “so we have a summer program to see if they can make it in such a big school.”
Christine Fine, who has taught at the Alternative School for five years, said that in the past, staff members were frustrated because there was no program to assist these students after the summer evaluation. “They would just be passed on to the next grade,” Fine said. “We knew some of these students we saw through the summer program wouldn’t be successful at Fairmont. So we turned the 8.5 program into a whole year for the students to work on things they’d still be doing as freshmen.”
The teachers try to match the level of work to the kids’ level of skill and knowledge. Students who are able are pushed to do freshman-level material, but the program is designed to get kids from where they are to be ready for high school. However, they are not allowed to play high school sports or participate in other Fairmont activities because they aren’t considered high school students yet.
VonHandorf said the 8.5 students enter the program for a different environment. “Some just can’t handle being in a school with 2,500 other kids around,” he said. “Some need smaller class sizes and more attention.”
Keira McDonald, who was in the Trotwood School District last year, says she enjoys her time in the 8.5 program. She says not moving right into high school was easier since she was moving from another town. “I didn’t have to deal with leaving my friends because I was moving anyway.”
Since the Alternative School is much smaller, students don’t change classes like they do at Fairmont. “We all change classes at the same time and with the same people. Sometimes we go to the teachers’ room and sometimes they come to ours,” McDonald said.
The optimistic 8.5-grader says she wants to enter the workforce after finishing high school and says the Alternative School environment is working for her. “It makes me feel like I’m growing up faster,” she said.