11-25-13: New program seeks to re-engage dropouts
11-25-13: New program seeks to re-engage dropouts
Posted on 11/25/2013

When Kaylee Waldherr slipped and fell on wet grass two years ago, she never dreamed her broken ankle would land her in a wheelchair for six months and cause her to drop out of school.


The further she fell behind in her studies, she said, the more overwhelmed she felt, even with offers of help from the high school staff.


Waldherr decided to leave Emerald Ridge High School in the middle of her eleventh- grade year and take care of her two younger brothers as an at-home nanny. Her plan, she said, was to eventually enroll in community college and earn a general education degree (GED).


While it sounded like a good plan, the 19-year-old admits she was never fully satisfied.


“I knew a high school diploma would give me a better foundation for college and looking for jobs,” she said.Image


When Waldherr learned about a new program this year in Puyallup that offers student dropouts an opportunity to return to a specialized program to earn a diploma or GED, she knew she was a perfect match.


This fall, the teen is one of nearly two dozen student dropouts who have re-enrolled in school in the newly launched “Puyallup Open Doors” program.


The students range in age from 16 to 20, dropped out in junior high or high school, and left for a variety of reasons including medical issues, substance abuse, pregnancy, financial issues, homelessness, or a disengagement with learning, said Mary Jo Harvey, director of homeschool and continuing education.


“Our main purpose is to engage every student and leave no one out,” Harvey said.


Puyallup Open Doors will become a self-supporting program in the future through state funds outlined in 2010 legislation designed to re-engage dropouts throughout Washington state, said Chrys Sweeting, assistant superintendent of instruction, learning, curriculum, and assessment.


The program is housed in classrooms inside a building that the district has leased on South Hill Park Drive near the Best Western Hotel.


Harvey said it was important to have the classes held near a city bus stop to make it easy for students who don’t drive. She has also worked hard to make the program friendly and welcoming, including having comfortable furniture and reading material in the lobby.


Sessions are scheduled mornings and afternoons to accommodate student work and home schedules. Each student has a personalized education plan designed to make them successful.


The district mailed postcards this fall to 1,300 students who had dropped out of school and who met the program’s criteria of being between 16 and 20 years old as of September 1, 2013. The information on the postcard explained Puyallup Open Doors and invited them to consider enrolling.


The program is also open to students outside the Puyallup School District who meet the same age requirement, Harvey said.


Waldherr, who lives within several miles of the leased facility, attends the program for approximately two hours twice a week.


She signed up this fall for two classes — math and language arts — in her first time back to school in over a year.


“I’m only 15 credits shy of graduating,” she said. “I’m not that far behind.”


Waldherr completes her coursework online in a computer lab environment and is supported by a certified teacher who can answer questions and help with her learning plan.


Each student enrolled in the program has his or her own personal identification password and can also log in to work on online courses from home.


Waldherr said she likes that the classroom is quiet without a large number of students to distract her.


Her goal, she said, is to graduate with her high school diploma this June, attend college, and pursue a career in daycare or nursing, preferably as an Intensive Care Unit nurse.


For more information about Puyallup Open Doors, contact Director Mary Jo Harvey at (253) 841-8630 or visit the district website at http://ow.ly/raaQR.