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Education that works for them

ALPHA provides alternative path for high school students in Humboldt

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Kallie Nilles, 17, a junior at Humboldt High School, gets to work during ALPHA. Her teacher, Kristen Fisher, sits next to her for support. Fisher is the coordinator of the Alternative Learning Program for the Humboldt Area.

HUMBOLDT — The traditional environment and pace of a high school classroom didn’t work for Christian Hernandez, 17, a junior at Humboldt High School.

But a program called ALPHA has allowed him to tailor his education in a way that has helped him find success. And it has kept him on a path toward graduation.

“I can go at my own pace,” Hernandez said. “And I don’t have to worry about what the teacher is saying because sometimes when everyone else understands, I don’t.”

ALPHA stands for Alternative Learning Program for the Humboldt Area. It started in 2012 inside a remodeled industrial arts classroom at the old middle school in Humboldt.

On Wednesday, Hernandez was working on algebra there.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Kristen Fisher, coordinator of the ALPHA program, stands next to a wall at the old Humboldt Middle School. Students who finish the program get to write their name on a section of the wall.

“It’s been going good,” Hernandez said. “I’m catching up on credits I failed at the high school.”

Prior to ALPHA, students who needed an alternative education plan were sent to Pocahontas. According to Lori Westhoff, principal of Humboldt High School, the travel distance of about 30 minutes was a pretty clear drawback.

“That was tough,” Westhoff said. “It was tough for them to drive that far and for teachers to have that rapport with kids.”

Eventually a committee of teachers was formed and the idea for ALPHA was developed.

Kristen Fisher is the coordinator of the program.

“Kristen is amazing,” Westhoff said. “She’s the perfect person for that job. She develops a family atmosphere there amongst the students. The program is only as good as the teacher teaching it and we are very fortunate to have Kristen.”

Fisher holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Iowa. She helped design the space for students.

“We wanted a smaller home-like environment for students that maybe, for whatever reason, the traditional high school setting wasn’t for them,” Fisher said. “We wanted a more individualized plan for those students. A place for them to be successful and get their high school diploma.”

Fisher, a Corwith-Wesley-Lu Verne High School graduate, is there to help students navigate through any problems they may encounter. That includes reteaching some lessons.

“I do a lot of math here,” Fisher said.

Fisher also works with her students on a post-secondary plan, whether that’s college, military or finding work.

One benefit Fisher sees is students having their own building to come to for ALPHA.

“Before this they didn’t have to show up to a physical building and I think that’s part of why not as many were graduating,” Fisher said. “This has allowed us to build a community where students feel safe and supported. Although it’s mostly online, we still want to see students face-to-face to talk about issues and make them feel like they can come and learn and not be judged.”

Kallie Nilles, 17, is a junior, but is planning to graduate high school before her senior year. That’s been made possible through ALPHA.

“She’s worked hard and is able to do that,” Fisher said.

All high school students need 48 credits to graduate.

With the goal of graduating early, Nilles has had to invest more time in her studies. But she is OK with that.

“I’ve been taking a lot of online classes,” Nilles said. “I work on them outside of school a lot.”

She appreciates having Fisher’s support.

“I like it a lot better this way,” Nilles said. “It’s more of a one-on-one environment if you need help. If it doesn’t make sense, there is always resources you can find or ask Ms. Fisher.”

There’s another reason she likes ALPHA.

“It’s quieter,” Nilles said.

Nilles currently has algebra II, personal money management and career explorations on her plate.

ALPHA accepts a total of 20 students. Ten are there in the morning. Ten are there in the afternoon.

Most students split their day between the high school and ALPHA.

A vast majority of the work is completed online. But some work has to be sent back to the high school for grading. Classes like art and shop have to be completed at the high school.

Brandon Brockway, 17, a junior, has found his pace at ALPHA. He was studying geometry on Wednesday.

“I like to go one class at a time,” he said. “For me personally, I don’t like to rush.”

According to Fisher, ALPHA has graduated a total of 46 students in seven years.

The program is split into blocks, Fisher said. The blocks last about 22 days.

“In that block they have to get at least one online class done,” Fisher said. “Then progress reports get sent home. We also fill out contracts. At the beginning of each block, we go over goals for this block, what class or classes they want to get done.”

Michael McKee, 17, a senior, likes the ALPHA atmosphere.

“It’s easier for me to concentrate and understand this way,” said McKee, who was working on biology.

Johnny Rojas, 17, a junior, is taking a sociology course.

Being able to complete multiple assignments is a plus for him.

“If you want to work ahead you can,” Rojas said. “At school you have to be rolling with the class. Here you can finish 10 assignments in a day if you want.”

According to Fisher, students who wish to be in ALPHA have to fill out an application and write an essay explaining why it’s a good fit for them.

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