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Henderson tries new ‘innovation time’ to help students achieve their goals

By Rebecca Rider
rebecca.rider@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Henderson Independent High School is a place for second chances. But for years, the school has needed a second chance of its own. This year, it got it.

In addition to adjusting start times for middle and high school students, Henderson also implemented something called “Eagle Innovation” hour, where students can take part in internships or job shadowing, seek extra help with classes or receive counseling.

“We need to make sure we’re giving students exactly what they need and how they need it,” Principal Arlisa Armond said.

The local alternative school was founded in 1996 to teach students who, for whatever reason, had immense difficulties thriving in a traditional school.

“And there’s a variety of reasons that might have happened,” Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody said.

Students are placed in Henderson by parent recommendation, because they have had a long-term suspension at their home school or because their home school believed an alternative setting was needed.

Once there, they remain for a semester or yearlong term and have the opportunity to return to their home school if they reach personalized goals in attendance, grades and discipline.

The smaller class-sizes and student body, in addition to a more structured environment, work better for students tackling other difficulties in life — whether that’s behavioral issues or other life problems — and can help them get back on their feet.

According to the school website, “many students opt to remain at Henderson for an alternative, inclusive, flexible setting which meets their needs.”

The school currently serves approximately 95 students.

One of the reasons Armond was chosen to lead Henderson in 2016 was because of her drive for change.

“We knew that she was innovative,” Moody said.

The district, too, wanted to make some changes at Henderson, and encouraged Armond to tour other alternative programs, interview the staff and see what she could fashion out of the tools given to her.

Armond returned with Eagle Innovation and the alternative schedule.

Starting at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, Henderson retired its two school buses and began using a small fleet of white vans. Middle school students arrive each day at 8 a.m. and go until 3 p.m. High school students arrive at 9:30 and have class until 4:30 p.m., if they choose to take part in Eagle Innovation time.

And each Wednesday is an early release day for students, which allows faculty to take part in professional development.

The schedule change allows students to express themselves freely with their peers, without feeling pressured or like they have to perform.

“There’s an age gap and a maturity gap between middle and high school students,” Armond said. “…We want all of our students to feel comfortable, safe and just truly able to express themselves in their own environment that they can truly consider theirs.”

During Eagle Innovation time students can pick one of three current tracks.

Internships, built with community partners, allow students to explore possible career options or to closely study a passion. While working, students must also develop a project that can “impact their community in some way and make a difference.”

“What our goal is, is to make sure that we give each student the opportunity to explore and engage in what their specific interests are,” Armond said.

With help from community partners, Armond is hoping that soon students will be able to learn about vehicle maintenance, working with animals and being a barber, among others. It’s a piece, however, that the school is still “getting off the ground.”

Students can also choose to take part in “intervention enrichment,” where they can seek out tutoring, or pursue credit recovery.

The third and final piece is a time led by counselors, where students learn that “mindset matters.”

“This is where if our students are dealing with any issue … there can either be one-on-one session with councilors or group sessions,” Armond said.

With help, students can work their way through anger, stress, grief or other issues. Armond said that eventually, she wants to be able to bring in a yoga instructor if needed to help with breathing and mindfulness.

While Eagle Innovation time is optional for high school students, Armond said she’s had a good turnout. And students are excited.

“Initially they were wondering if it was real,” she said.

But then they began to talk about possibilities and ask questions about opportunities.

“They are really buying into it,” Armond said.

Armond is working on building community partners — one of which is the local YMCA. For the first time, Henderson students will now travel to the YMCA twice a week for P.E. classes. And the school hopes to have an oil change event hosted at the J.F. Hurley YMCA for students interested in vehicular maintenance.

All-in-all, it’s a lot of small pieces that administration hopes will have a big impact.

“They all kind of work together to change the culture and the environment in that building,” Moody said.

It’s a new, fledgling idea that still hasn’t found its wings yet, and Moody said it’s too early to tell if it will succeed or not. But she hopes.

Eagle Innovation time has only been in place for about a month, but Armond said she has high hopes for it. But it won’t succeed without the community’s help and involvement.

“Our initial goal was to engage the total school community and to create leaders. We’re creating leaders in our students. So with that, we have to involve everyone in the process — the entire community,” she said.

It’s something that every school needs — but Henderson, perhaps, more than most. The school doesn’t have a PTA, and doesn’t take in money for projects like other schools might, with drink sales or picture sales. All it’s got is the determination of its staff. Which, Moody said, might just be enough.

“When Arlisa and her team rolled up their sleeves, other people were willing to roll up their sleeves,” Moody said of the changes that happened this year.

And Armond hasn’t been disappointed. The community has come out “in droves” in support of the new plan.

While she said Henderson’s previous reputation as a warehouse for difficult students has been a challenge, she and the current staff are working hard to change the community’s view of the school. When she mentions Eagle Innovation and her dream for Henderson’s future, she’s gotten nothing but positives.

It’s something she wants to pass on to the students, as well.

“Our students need to understand that, No. 1, the sky is the limit for them. Whatever they can conceive in their minds they can absolutely achieve it,” she said.

She hopes that the experience will be a game-changer for some students — that it will be that second, third or fourth chance they needed to understand that they can have a positive impact on the world.

“Having these opportunities, it opens their eyes and they understand that the world is a lot bigger than what they think it might be, and it allows them to dream and to dream big and to know that anything is possible as long as they believe,” she said.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 

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