District 622 programs aim to keep students in school ... or get them back

YMCA will run new daycare center

The North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District is launching new programs this fall so that students with young children and former students have a better chance to earn their high school diploma.

A daycare center for young children whose mothers are students will open in September at the District Education Center in North St. Paul. It is a partnership with the YMCA and designed to prevent young parents from dropping out. It will offer parenting classes as well, said community education director Chuck Erickson.

The district will also begin offering another new program at Harmony Learning Center this fall so adults between the ages of 18 to 21 who didn’t complete high school will have an added opportunity to earn their diploma.

The new adult diploma center will provide a somewhat flexible program for adults to complete their high school requirements in which students don’t have to be in the classroom every day of the week, explained Joe Richter, principal of alternative programs.

Keeping moms on track

Erickson said the school district will offer the daycare program because there are some young parents, especially mothers, in the district who need childcare support to be able to complete their high school education. Studies show that the mothers are more likely to drop out of high school if they don’t have childcare support available to them, Erickson said.

“I mean it just is a huge stressor for these teen moms,” he added. “We don’t want to lose them.”

In addition to providing childcare for the infants and toddlers, the program will also offer parenting classes so teens can learn to be better parents and receive school credit for the classes they take.

“We see it as an opportunity to help them stay in school and become really good moms,” Erickson explained.

And though this particular program is new, Erickson said the district offered a similar service during the past two years at Harmony Learning Center. But the program wasn’t breaking even and was running out of space, he explained, so the district began exploring the possibility of subcontracting the service with the YMCA.

The YMCA won’t run the daycare as a profit-making enterprise, Erickson said, but will collect an administrative fee to cover the costs of running the program.

The district’s contract with the YMCA specifies that if the program generates any kind of profit, that money will go toward the district’s alternative learning center program, and the alternative learning center program will help fund the program if there is a shortfall, Erickson noted.

County funding is available so the program will be free for the young parents, but the program will still likely cost District 622 some money because the district will have to provide transportation for students and their children from their homes, Erickson said.

To make room for the new program, the district decided to relocate the Stepping Stones Preschool to the Gladstone Center and place the new program for teen mothers in the two rooms the preschool previously used in the District Education Center.

Students are referred to the program by school guidance counselors and the social worker from the alternative learning center. The social worker enrolls students, some of whom may be adults working toward their GED, in the program. Erickson said though it’s unclear exactly how many children the program will serve since students may enroll in the program at different points throughout the school year, he estimates it will be about eight infants and eight toddlers each year.

An open house will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 21 for anyone who’d like to learn more about the program.

Another opportunity for a diploma

Another new program being implemented in District 622 also aims to increase students’ chances at earning a diploma.

The adult diploma center, to be housed at Harmony Learning Center, will allow former students ages 18 to 21 to earn their diplomas in a non-traditional way.

Under the program, students can complete online courses on an independent study basis, but will be required to engage in face-to-face learning with teachers 20 percent of the time.

Richter noted that adults might not be as inclined to go back to school to earn their GED, but often realize the value of going back to school to earn their diploma.

He added that at the district’s existing alternative learning center, some students aren’t as likely to meet graduation requirements if they’re required to be in the classroom for the typical whole school day.

The adult diploma center program is designed to be somewhat flexible for students who need to work while they earn their diploma or who wouldn’t be as likely to complete the high school requirements by attending classes on-site for the full school day every day, Richter explained, but students need to “show progress” once they enroll in the program.

State funding is available to support the program, he added, but the district does not get reimbursed by state alternative programming funds if the students don’t ultimately earn the credits for the courses they take.

“You don’t get your student payment unless they learn. It offers a little more flexibility, but we also have some accountability,” Richter explained.

The program’s teachers are dedicated to helping students earn their diploma, Richter added.

“Our adult education teachers have big hearts,” he said. “They want to work with people that are there to get the diploma.”

Richter said the program will be merged in part with some of the GED training offered by the district so that if at any point students decide they’d rather just earn their GED they will have that option.

“It really comes down to a case-by-case situation,” Richter said. “Our job is to say ‘hey, here are what each of these opportunities are,” and help (students) achieve them.”

Richter said there aren’t many programs similar to the adult diploma center in the area, and that he believes this program will help serve more people in the community including the increasing immigrant population in the east metro area. The program is different from the typical GED program, which is mainly computer-test based, Richter said, so it could be a better option for those who learn and communicate concepts differently or have difficulty taking tests.

Richter said the adult diploma center is also part of a larger comprehensive service delivery model that the district is implementing to help students and former students succeed.

“We do have students that are at risk at certain times, and we wanted to be responsive to students at those moments,” Richter said. “We will help and support you, but you have to put in the work.”

Alex Holmquist can be reached at aholmquist@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822.

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