|Fir Ridge Campus: Small school with big results
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
From Southeast Market Street, the building resembles a library, post office or another well-maintained municipal facility. Concrete pathways transect the dense grass to the glass façade, welcoming visitors with a transparency common to green construction. Inside, one may still entertain the illusion of having entered a sort of community center. From the lofty central hall, bright with skylights and full of circular tables, one can view the entire facility by swiveling in place: The front hallway, lined by faculty offices, the two wings of six classrooms each, the two rows of snowy-domed iMacs circumscribing the computer lab, and doors leading to the kitchen and gym. This place was obviously designed to serve a purpose. Yet that purpose is not so apparent.
Director Ron Knight welcomes visitors to view Fir Ridge as a community-learning center. Local college students serve internships here. Community events, political assemblies, even a wedding have been held in the central hall. Every new face integrates the community with the 240 students educated here, enlightening both on the benefits of alternative education.
A variety of psychological and social components may threaten any students scholastic success. Some students lack a functional family dynamic, the authority to enforce attendance, or the funds to divert time from work. Some harbor learning or anxiety issues that cause them to withdraw from large classes. Some acted overly aggressive or social among the masses of the conventional high school to the expense of their grades. The Fir Ridge Campus is specifically designed to address these needs.
Its a beautiful building that enables us to do things not possible in other settings, Knight said. We try a more structured approach. The physical layout of the school is designed for more supervision.
At Fir Ridge, students earn credits in partial doses throughout eight 20-day sessions. After each session students receive progress reports or report cards, and every two sessions they earn a quarter credit. Students attend the same four classes daily, in contrast to the eight-class, A-day/B-day schedule of the larger high school. If students encounter a conflict that interrupts a few weeks, they still retain that quarter credit earned at the beginning, which they return to build upon.
Fir Ridge differs from traditional schools in other ways. The school provides a free breakfast, guaranteeing the fuel to concentrate in classes, which begin slightly later than the main campus to accommodate working students. The classrooms here are small, the walls a collage of visual aides, wipe boards and projection screens; some have a handful of computers. Noticeably absent are lockers and desks.
We provide all supplies and materials throughout the course of the whole year, Knight said. Students come into class, get a notebook or get on the computer, and open their folder on the server and get started on the assignment. When they leave that classroom, they put everything back. Though teachers assign homework, Some students have difficulty staying focused, meeting deadlines and working independently outside of school. We do all the work in school to keep them organized and stay with a subject every day until they finish.
Class sizes range from 16 to 18 students. We have tables instead of desks so they can reconfigure easily to do group work, which is very effective. There is a lot of discussion involved prior to doing the written work. Oftentimes if students have a venue to express their opinion on something then theyre ready to move on, but until theyve been heard theyre not ready for the next level.
Though students come to Fir Ridge for a variety of reasons, Knight stressed that, Everyone is treated individually. Whatever a student needs to be successful, we need to provide that. Resources abound with assistance ranging from housing and child care to school-to-work programs and tutors. The school has attendance enforcers, a conflict-resolution counselor, an anger-management counselor, and a nurse to administer health care, in addition to popular extracurricular activities like a basketball team, sewing club, guitar club and a hip-hop dance team.
Knight arranges introductory parent-student meetings to define the specific needs of each new student coming in. I talk to them about their interests, what they want to do in the future and the importance of education to achieve that. We set goals in attendance and talk about behavioral conditions in the past and goals in those areas. We talk about grades and what has been difficult for them and how we can overcome that.
On their first day of school a counselor meets with them and arranges their schedule based on what they need to graduate as soon as possible. We get them involved in talking about their transcript, and we explain the system and how it works. Often they dont know what a transcript is or how many credits they need or how many they have, so we de-mystify that and engage them in the process of what they need to do to be successful.
How can such small environmental and structural adjustments improve students prospects? Oftentimes they are successful here, which leads them to a new confidence in themselves, and they realize that they really can graduate. Some of them didnt think they would, and when they realize that they can, we start talking about where to go next. We encourage them to apply for grants and loans to go to college or look into apprenticeship programs, and their approach to school becomes different. They say, Im here; Im doing something that makes sense to me. And Im going to get something out of this.
Proof comes in numbers. Three years ago 31 students graduated. The following year that number rose to 42. Last year Fir Ridge awarded 58 diplomas. Knight credits the commitment of the students and how hard theyre working, though he added that it also speaks to the caliber of staff here and also the commitment of the faculty and students to the program.
Though he looks forward to implementing improvements such as developing the grounds, encouraging community connections and access to technology, Knight has confidence in the efficacy of the alternative model. For some students a smaller setting is an ideal way to get an education. Its just a learning preference. Its not an indicator of whos better or whos worse. Its just a way to access information in a different manner, and Im really proud of the work our students are doing here. By teaching the three Rs of the school motto: Respect and Responsibility leads to Results, Fir Ridge teaches how to grow emotionally and to build high expectations as a bridge to the future.
To learn more about Fir Ridge, visit http://frc.ddouglas.k12.or.us/. To volunteer Knight at 503-256-6530.
MEMO Advertising | MEMO Archives | MEMO Web Neighbors | MEMO Staff | Home