On Wednesday night, the Anaconda School Board chose to move ahead with starting an alternative learning center for high school students.
According to Anaconda School District No. 10 Superintendent Justin Barnes, the district has been exploring ways to help students at Anaconda High School who may not fit into the mainstream learning environment for the past few months. At the recent board meeting, he presented the preliminary plan for the new alternative learning center, asking trustees to help the district get the ball rolling.
Barnes explained Wednesday night that this alternative learning center will be for gifted students who may want to excel more in a specific subject and for students who need to get back on track to graduate. He wants the center, which will be housed in the district’s administrative building on West Park Avenue, to be a positive option for teens — not a punishment.
“It’s not going to be a different school under a different name. It’s going to be an extension of the high school,” Barnes said at the meeting. “I don’t want a stigma put on it.”
On Friday, Barnes explained his vision further. He said that currently there are students at Anaconda High School and other high schools across the state who don’t view school as their priority. These students have other things outside of the classroom to worry about that may be negatively impacting their health and safety, Barnes said. And while Anaconda teachers are trying to help these students stay on track, Barnes noted that it isn’t always easy.
“Our school is just big enough that we are letting some of these kids fall through the cracks,” Barnes said Friday.
That’s where the new learning center will come in. Mirroring the Paris Gibson Education Center in Great Falls, the Anaconda High School alternative learning center will be rooted on relationships and autonomous learning, mostly through online curriculum. Teachers and mentors will be handpicked to work with students and will ensure they are meeting their learning goals every day, Barnes explained. The center will also offer fine arts courses and possibly even fitness classes through Smelter City CrossFit.
At first, Barnes and the district would like the center to just serve juniors and seniors who will be required to apply to the alternative program. However, if younger high school students start struggling or become interested in what the center has to offer, Barnes said they may apply, too.
After Barnes spoke Wednesday night, the school board discussed the center for a short period. All members seemed to be supportive of the initiative, commenting on the benefits of block scheduling and small-group learning.
When the board asked for public comment before voting, a man from the audience shouted “I think it’d be great!" and gave a thumbs-up sign.
The school board unanimously approved of the proposal, too.
With this approval, Barnes said he is moving forward with the project, first by seeing if any current district teachers would be willing to transfer to the learning center. Once he gets an idea of these numbers and the number of staff needed overall, Barnes will open the remaining learning center jobs up to the public.
“It’s a really different mentality and model of teaching that really revolves around relationships,” Barnes said. “The biggest thing is we want our kids to be successful and we want them to graduate.”