Over the past 10 years, the State of Michigan has made a lot of changes to the graduation requirements for students in Michigan schools. Highfields’ on-campus school, Malcolm Williams School (MWS) as part of Ingham ISD has risen to the challenge of aligning their courses with the required standards.
There are three full-time teachers at MWS who all meet the Highly Qualified standards, indicating their level of knowledge to teach their assigned content areas. Two of the teachers at MWS have taught there for over 22 years.
Throughout the years, many of the students they have seen have had a history of school challenges – whether they are functioning below grade level, or behind in credits. However, the teachers overcome these obstacles by providing direct instruction for students who are at or below a 9th or 10th grade level credit-wise. In doing this, they have seen positive results.
“We have seen significant jumps in academic levels on pretests and posttests, which we attribute to the students being in school on a regular basis and engaging in the educational process,” said MWS Principal, Denise Lycos.
Most of the curriculum content is provided through individual instruction, group instruction, and online learning. While there seems to be a move towards alternative schools providing only online classes, Denise believes that providing a variety of educational options instead of just one provides a richer and more appropriate school experience.
Highfields maintains teacher presence in the classroom in order to give students dedicated one-on-one time. In fact, the online component tends to be used only for students close to completing their graduation requirement with more advanced courses.
“Our kids are getting credit from real people in real classes,” said Brian Philson, CEO/President of Highfields. “It’s important to us to maintain our standards because our main focus is for the kids to succeed.”
Students are encouraged to complete more than just the minimum, and leave Highfields with as many credits as possible. Cheryl Wichman, a teacher at MWS who has been with Highfields for 28 years, says the teacher/student relationships are critical to helping the troubled youth.
“I think the strength of our program is the relationships that are formed. Students learn to trust adults again because our staff is consistent and fair,” said Cheryl.
Highfields’ Director of Residential Services, Derek Hitchcock, believes Highfields’ school program is adept in engaging students in the educational process and building self-esteem through school success.
“The attitude and behavior change of many students is profound,” he said. “This leads to improved behavior attitude and commitment by students that carry over to the community setting.”
In addition to the school curriculum, Highfields is also looking for new ways to help students receive academic credit toward earning their high school diploma.
Over the summer, Highfields’ residential treatment staff created the Live Learning Laboratory – a career-building program where students could earn money while learning various skills by working around campus.
The Live Learning Laboratory has developed into a larger idea called the Work-Based Learning Program. The goal of this program is to provide students with academic credit for working with staff, such as maintenance or food service.
Highfields’ staff believes this program will be extremely beneficial for the students because it gives them real-world experience, while also contributing to their education.
Overall, Highfields’ teachers and staff have the student’s best interest in mind when it comes to education standards.
“Once they get a taste of school success and begin to see the opportunities a high school diploma can bring to them, we are hopeful they will continue their education once they leave Highfields,” said Cheryl.