Kannapolis officials confident alternative setting is making a difference

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 3, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
KANNAPOLIS — Stephan Wright said he’s not sure if graduation day would ever have been in his future without the alternative learning program.
“Hanging out with my friends, we used to skip all the time, and my grades got lower so I stopped coming to school,” he said.
That was during his freshman year at A.L. Brown High School. By the time he was a sophomore this year, the Kannapolis City school district’s alternative program was in full swing.
“I kind of volunteered to come here because that was an option,” he said. “I wanted to come get my grades back in order.”
The initiative began last academic year as a way to get the school system’s dropout rate down.
But it didn’t make a dent in the rate, which actually went up slightly. A total of 81 students left school last academic year, up from 78 the previous year for a rate of 5.44 percent. The average dropout rate statewide was 3.75 percent last year.
But Chasity Markle, the director of the program, said she’s confident the alternative setting is making a difference to keep students in school.
One reason she said the program works is because of its ability to offer a more personalized learning environment and one-on-one attention. Each class consists of between three and 10 students.
“The small learning environment seems to help a lot of them,” Markle said. “Some of them might not speak up, but with a small class they don’t feel that fear.”
The smaller atmosphere has been appealing to Wright, who said he can focus on his work without distractions.
Markle said the program also focuses on building relationships with students.
“Each student here has a teacher mentor, she said. “That way, they have a chance to interact with adults in the positive way.”
Imkera Washington, a sophomore in her second year with the program, said she feels like she can speak with the teachers personally without having to worry about repercussions.
Markle said the program, which is housed in the old Carver building next to Kannapolis Intermediate, runs like a regular school with four 90-minute blocks of instruction.
The program currently has about 20 middle and high school students enrolled. Markle said most of those students have chronic absenteeism or behavior issues.
Washington said poor behavior landed her at the alternative learning program.
“I’m not going to lie about it; I get in trouble,” she said. “Being here has been better because I don’t have as many people to influence me to do the wrong things.”
Markle said the program has a positive behavior intervention specialist who helps teach students ways to cope with negative behavior and make changes.
“When we get them here, we’ve got to change their attitude and help them make goals,” she said.
Washington said graduation would not even be a possibility if she hadn’t come to the alternative program.
“I would have either dropped out or been kicked out,” she said. “I’m glad I’m here because I can make something with my life.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
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