Since the fall of 2013, the Puyallup School District has made huge strides in accommodating students in need of a non-traditional education.
Lori Hadley, who oversees Puyallup Online Academy, Puyallup Open Doors and the parent partnership home school program at South Hill Park campus, said students served are unique individuals.
“We have some special kids,” she said. “Our programs are designed to provide those alternatives for students that for whatever reason the traditional school isn’t working.”
The longest running of the three programs is Puyallup Online Academy. POA started in 2010 at Walker High School under former Superintendent Tony Apostle.
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Last fall, Superintendent Tim Yeomans made the decision to move POA from Walker up to the South Hill Park campus.
“This allowed us to include ninth-graders at Walker High School,” Yeomans said. “This allows us to serve a (student) population earlier and makes sure that we don’t lose them.”
POA serves students in grades 9 to 12 who do better with online coursework or a hybrid of online and in-class coursework. Enrollment this year for POA is 110, with more than 50 taking a combination of in-class and online courses.
“We have a lot of students who have medical issues that makes regular attendance in a school hard,” Hadley said. “We have one student with a poor heart and going to school six hours a day is too hard. But he can work from home and come in for sessions.”
Other students served by POA suffer from ailments such as severe allergies and serious anxiety.
The second digital learning program is Puyallup Open Doors, which is the school district’s credit recovery and reengagement program. Students enrolled in this program are between the ages of 16-21 and are returning to school to complete a diploma or earn a GED.
Yeomans encouraged the start of Puyallup Open Doors, which launched in the 2013-2014 school year. He oversaw a similar program when he was the superintendent for the Meridian School District near Bellingham. Also at the same time last year, he inspired the parent partnership home school program.
The school board took “the real bold step” in the summer of 2013 to approve both programs, Yeomans said, with the assurance that both would be self-sustaining within two years, meaning student enrollment numbers would pay for program support.
“We were self-sustaining in eight months,” Yeomans said. “As more children have come, we have been able to enhance the services. The whole goal is to have a genuine opportunity to serve. Those are 130-plus kids that weren’t engaged before and now will have access to post-secondary education and genuine career opportunities.”
Puyallup Open Doors is a program made possible by the 2012 passage of House Bill 1418, which gave school districts the option to utilize Basic Education funding to support reengaging students that have dropped out of school. The law stipulates that the students be between the ages of 16-21.
“They can work toward a diploma or GED,” Hadley said. “If they go through preparation classes, we pay for their GED test. If they want to get a high school diploma, we will help support them with culminating projects and state tests.”
Finally, the parent partnership home school program has also made significant growth in its first year. When it launched last school year, there were about five students enrolled. Now there are 30 students.
“I have a K-8 parent partnership,” Hadley explained. “Parents who home-school their children do it as a partnership with us. We provide them with a (financial) allotment to get some of their materials. We also provide them with the certificated oversight of their courses and enrichment courses.”
Core classes such as language arts, math, science, reading and physical education are done at home.
“It is an alternative learning experience so there is a lot of accountability,” Hadley said. “Parents check in weekly and submit their child’s learning progress each month. If a student is falling behind, then intervention is taken.”
In most cases intervention is not required and that home school parents do a very good job.
“We are looking forward to growth,” she said.
This June, approximately 25 students will graduate from POA and Puyallup Open Doors. Three students have already graduated, including one who finished last year and just received their diploma. One student, Hadley said, has completed their GED. Several more have completed some sections of the GED, which includes four in all: English, math, science and social studies.
“For us to get started on this last year puts us on the cutting edge in the country,” Hadley said. “There are not that many states that have this kind of legislation. It’s pretty exciting to be part of something that is just developing.”