“Wahtonka Community School: building community on the west side of town,” that’s the slogan Brian Goodwin, program director of the North Wasco County School District’s special programs and federal grants, has attached to his plan for a new alternative school operating out of the old Wahtonka High School campus in west The Dalles.
At the Jan. 23 North Wasco County School Board meeting, Goodwin updated the board with more information about the particular students the program would benefit and how the school would fit into the current educational opportunities the district offers.
“We’ll be targeting revenue-neutral students who are not currently attending high school or who are already included in our enrollment numbers. The community school will serve as a way to bring those kids back in and give them the opportunity to learn new skills in different, interesting ways.”
Slated to begin operations on July 7 of this year, students would attend the school year-round, but would receive the same major holiday breaks as their peers attending The Dalles Wahtonka High School. Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring breaks, for example, would all remain the same.
With a 55-student enrollment target, Goodwin says he plans to make good use of the summertime portion of the program to build agricultural components into the curriculum.
According to the draft packet that was distributed to the board that outlines various aspects of the program, “Unlike a traditional high school where courses are taught in isolation from one another due to the size of the school, at WCS courses will be taught around themes. The work that students do in these thematic courses will apply toward the various CCSS and Oregon State Standards and toward the granting of transcripted credit.”
In the section entitled, “A day in the life of a WCS student,” it says students will arrive at school at 7:45 a.m. and progress through the day’s coursework and lesson plan until 2:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
An example of a themed lesson included in this sample schedule describes a humanities class beginning at 8 a.m. and running until 9:45 that has students traveling via bike to the Discovery Center, where they will partner up and “[interview] local citizens” about their lives and how they were “impacted by World War II.”
“There’s also going to be a very big focus on community service at the school,” Goodwin said. “I’ve already talked with Principal Anne Evans about WCS ‘adopting’ Chenowith Elementary, and we’re both very excited about the prospect of facilitating active student mentorship.”
While Goodwin said the schedule could potentially impact those students planning on engaging in summertime employment, he said the Monday through Thursday, 2:30 schedule was designed to balance this.
“I think we’ll be able to adjust things pretty well, and that we’ll be able to let kids go to work as well as get a whole lot of learning accomplished over the summer.”
Again, Goodwin emphasized the importance of keeping a regular summer schedule in the effort to combat what he referred to as the “summertime slide” which causes many students to fall behind, stalling future progress.
“The summer schedule will help students who have found school to be a challenge for whatever reason in the past in a really big way,” he said.
In response to concerns raised by board member Robert Bissonette about where these 55 students will “materialize from if they’re not already included in our numbers,” Goodwin said that judging by district drop-out rates over the last several years they “definitely are out there.”
“You’ll definitely have the support of the business community and community members who want to get involved,” Carol Roderick, vice-chair of the school board said.
John Arens, director of the Mid-Columbia Council of Governments, expressed his own support for the community partnerships the school’s curriculum is built to rely on.
“We’re currently in the process of figuring out how we can collaborate with the school districts,” Arens said.
“We see a lot of kids coming in the door, maybe having made it through eighth grade, who want some form of credit or way to gain a skill set that would help get them employed. I think offering this school as an option for those students is a great opportunity for everyone involved, and that there might be ways we can help each other that we haven’t even explored yet.”
Both Roderick and board member John Nelson expressed their support of the program.
“It’s a very creative venture,” Nelson said. “It really promises to open up the programming the district offers to new dimensions in a way that both the school district and the students will really benefit from in the long run. It’s a great example of thinking outside the box, which is something we really need to do.”
The motion to approve the plans for the new alternative school that will begin operations July 7 was passed unanimously by the board.
In closing, Goodwin said he expected the new school to be filled to capacity by September, and that it may even boast a considerable waiting list before too long.