Pine River-Backus ALC is more than just credits
Students in the independent program have a wide variety of experiences
PINE RIVER — After the Pequot Lakes School District ended its contract with the Pine River-Backus School District for alternative learning center services, Pine River-Backus' ALC continues serving students both in and out of the district.
For some years, the Pequot Lakes School District contracted with Pine River-Backus to provide students with credit recovery options at dedicated space on the Pine River-Backus School property.
For the 2022-2023 school year, Pequot Lakes chose to provide their own alternative learning services in-house, citing cost and results as reasons.
They did it without hesitation. They said, 'We can't go without the program, just do what you can,' which is great to know I have the board's backing and support.
At this time there are two Pequot Lakes students in the Pequot Lakes ALC, while Pine River-Backus serves 81 ALC students.
Pine River-Backus ALC Director Sue Peet said they often had a few more Pequot Lakes students; however, the number would generally increase ahead of graduation as credit recovery becomes more dire.
The loss of the Pequot Lakes contract was a financial hit to the PR-B program; however, Peet said the school board did not hesitate to fill the gap.
"They put some general education funds in, but they did it without hesitation," Peet said. "They said, 'We can't go without the program, just do what you can,' which is great to know I have the board's backing and support."
It is too early to know what effects this change will have, such as the impact on Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments scores. In the past, MCA scores for Pequot Lakes ALC students were counted among the Pine River-Backus School District, but that will not be the case with the next test.
Some have to help their family make money or they're homeless. We have kids once in a while who are living out of their car. We get them in here and try to get them established.
In the meantime, Pine River-Backus has continued to offer a much larger ALC program on their campus. Between students coming both full time and less than full time to catch up on credits, Pine River-Backus ALC has 81 students.
Approximately 46-47 are full-time students. The others spend only one to three hours a day at the center, while still attending some classes at the high school building.
While Pine River-Backus no longer contracts with Pequot Lakes, some of those students are still from other districts, due to open enrollment.
Some may imagine ALC being for students who simply fall behind in class, but the student body of this building has a large variety of unique backgrounds that led them to the more personalized education model.
I have some that are quite bright. They are headed right on to college, but they say they will not do the drama in high school. They are often more mature.
"Some have to work," Peet said. "Some have to help their family make money or they're homeless. We have kids once in a while who are living out of their car. We get them in here and try to get them established."
Some students come to the ALC to get away from uncomfortable situations at the high school.
"One student came from Texas and several different schools," Peet said. "She ran into some bullying and just has anxiety."
Some work to eventually transition back to the high school.
"We're taking baby steps," Peet said.
And some students are already college bound.
"I have some that are quite bright," Peet said. "They are headed right on to college, but they say they will not do the drama in high school. They are often more mature."
In a traditional high school setting there are often very strict schedules and benchmarks. Students are encouraged to reach those benchmarks on a set schedule at the same time as their whole class.
At the ALC, they have the ability to seek benchmarks that are specifically designed for them.
"It's independent," Peet said. "It's always small groups and there's no endpoint. If a student has trouble and is gone for a month, their points stay their points. You know what they've accomplished and when they come back we put them back in, put them on the schedule and get them going again."
In addition, strict schedules get less priority with the main focus not on reaching specific goals by a specific timeframe. Instead, the goal is a diploma. The other aspects are a little more flexible.
Students have to meet expectations, but when and how might not be identical from student to student.
This can be valuable, especially for students who have life events that interrupt their progress, such as living with another family member during a difficult time.
That's not to say there is no schedule. There is a schedule for each ALC student, and meeting that schedule can be the key to success.
"The schedule is hanging up," Peet said. "The kids know sometimes I have to adjust the schedule to fit more kids in. They look at the schedule in case I bumped them around, but they always stay on their day. They know when to meet with their teachers. They get at least 30-minute lesson conferences on a subject, then they might do quizzes or a test or discussion and then they get their assignment for the week."
It's always small groups and there's no endpoint. If a student has trouble and is gone for a month, their points stay their points. You know what they've accomplished and when they come back we put them back in, put them on the schedule and get them going again.
Like working in the real world, success at the ALC does require self motivation due to the more open nature of their education. Almost more than a traditional high school, the ALC puts the responsibility of success firmly in the kids' hands, rather than scheduling every single assignment and test and holding them to it.
"They do have to be able to work somewhat independently," Peet said. "I admit the most successful kids are the ones who can work independently."
That often includes students who have jobs and have developed independent working skills outside of school.
While some students arrive at the ALC after falling behind, Peet said about 30% of students join the ALC program simply by request of a teacher, parent or the students themselves due to their individual needs.
That often takes place before a student has fallen behind or is looking for credit recovery.
Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org.