Madalynn Marshall wouldn’t be graduating if it weren’t for Rutland High School’s alternative education program.
“I would not be standing here today,” the senior said in her speech titled “There is Always Hope.” In her speech, Marshall discussed the struggles of teen mental illness, noting that “a child struggling with mental illness is twice as likely to drop out.”
She said that before enrolling in the program, she was at a “low point,” and on the verge of dropping out herself.
Getting accepted changed all that. She said that she has “always felt wanted and accepted” by faculty at the program’s Grove Street Campus.
Marshall and seven other seniors were honored in a graduation ceremony held at the Alliance Community Fellowship church in Howe Center Jan. 10. The space was chosen to accommodate the several dozen family, friends and school staff members in attendance.
Graduates were Evan Barker, Betty Bell, Phanthea Boardman, Meredith Brown, Michael Devino, Katelyn Knapp, Madalynn Marshall and Paige McPhee.
All students were members of the high school’s alternative education program, which was previously housed in Howe Center before relocating to a brand-new, expanded facility in the former Green Mountain Power building at 77 Grove St. last year.
This is the first class to graduate from the new campus. As of this month, the high school has 44 eleventh and twelfth graders enrolled at Grove Street. Another 10 students will graduate in the spring.
Now in its 30th year, the program offers an alternative track for students, who, for various reasons, struggle to thrive in a traditional classroom environment. More than a dropout recovery program — though that is a key objective — the campus instills in students essential organizational, time-management and life skills.
The campus features smaller classrooms that allow teachers to have more personal connection with students. Teaching is done in smaller time increments, with students only required to be in class for a minimum of two hours a day. The rest of the day is spent working on classwork independently and working at jobs in the community. Students are required to be working or actively seeking employment while enrolled in the program. All eight graduates are leaving with jobs.
Senior Paige McPhee echoed Marshall’s sentiments after the ceremony. “When I was at the high school, I didn’t ever go. I skipped a lot,” she said, describing large class sizes and crowds of students as being overwhelming for her.
She said the Grove Street Campus was a more comfortable setting. “I was able to answer and participate in classes. ... It really helped my learning. It helped me become more comfortable with myself.”
With high school behind her, McPhee said she is going to focus on her job for the moment — she is a server at Denny’s — but is considering going to trade school.
Going to Grove Street isn’t a punishment. Students are not sent there; rather, they must apply and prove the program is right for them. Once admitted, students agree to a contract designed to hold them accountable and keep them focused on goals, which they set and review every quarter.
“Accountability is a skill that’s lacking in a lot of young people I see,” Grove Street Campus team leader Carolyn Ravena said during a tour of the new campus last week.
She said the contracts “give (students) a sense of ownership that I believe is key to this program.”
That level of commitment didn’t go unnoticed by school administrators at the graduation ceremony.
“Anybody can go to Rutland High School,” Assistant Superintendent Robert Bliss said in his address to the class. “You walk in, they sign you up, they give you classes ... but when you come to the Grove Street program, you make a choice ... to take action and take control of your education, understanding that you are applying to be accepted and will be evaluated.”
Turning his attention to the audience gathered, Bliss acknowledged the family, friends and educators who helped the graduates reach this point. “The fine people up here could not do this without you and your support.”
Bliss then read excerpts from the Grove Street Campus newsletter in which seniors offered words of advice as they reflected on graduating.
Some were simple rules for success, like, “don’t come to school late” and “don’t let procrastination win.”
Others were more reflective: “Focus on what you’re doing and not what everyone else is doing” and “anything is possible when you put your mind to it.” RHS Principal William Olsen called the graduation “one of the best days of the year for us.”
“These guys are some of the most resilient kids at Rutland High,” he said. “And now they’re at the point where they’re ready to go meet their dreams as adults.”
During the ceremony the graduates acknowledged longtime educator Patricia Dalglish, presenting her with a plant and framed photo of the class.
“I will always remember how kind and forgiving she was,” said Katelyn Knapp, who recalled Dalglish making sure Knapp had a dress for prom.
“You made a difference in our lives,” said Evan Barker.
Interim Superintendent David Wolk closed the ceremony, telling graduates, “You have found your place (here), just as you will find your place in the world.”