When some people hear the words “Alternative School” they envision an environment with behavior problems, bad attitudes, and lots of discipline. Another group of people hear the same words and remember a second chance and an opportunity to make up lost time and credits to follow an alternative path toward graduation. This group is the parents and students who have experienced the impacts provided by the St. James R-I Alternative School. Although there are many alternative schools across the state that act as holding grounds for students with behavior problems, the St. James R-I Alternative school takes a different approach. Yes, some of our students have their fair share of issues, but the focus of the school is providing opportunities and support for at-risk students. “At-risk” is another negative word, but it simply means a student who has barriers that make achieving graduation more difficult. Our program is designed to give at-risk students the support necessary to catch up and graduate high school.
In addition to achieving the required credits to graduate, students attending the St. James R-I Alternative School are involved in many activities to help improve the chance of success in the real world. All students in attendance must participate in a job skills course that covers everything from applications and interviews to cooking and dining etiquette within its curriculum. Although the uncertainties and limitations brought on by the pandemic have restricted some of our activities, the alternative school program ensures students understand exactly what it means to be a positive contribution to society.
Over the past five years, the St. James R-I Alternative School has averaged over 30 graduates per year, and there are a number of individuals who make the program successful. The high school college advisor works with the alternative school seniors to ensure any student wanting to attend college has taken the ACT and filled out the FAFSA. Our students also have the opportunity to collaborate with The Missouri Job Center to discover employment opportunities and obtain funding for college. Many students from the alternative school have gone on to college, joined the military, and some have gone straight into the workforce. There have been police officers, construction workers, nurses, and even teachers who have received the second chance necessary to become successful through the program.
The alternative school program’s success comes from building relationships and trust with students in hopes they will know that someone cares. Stability and consistency are often missing elements from the world of an at-risk student’s life. The St. James R-I Alternative School Director Tim Metcalf and teacher Dusty Craft have developed one of the most successful alternative school settings in the state. These two professionals do an outstanding job providing the stability and consistency necessary to promote student success. Leaders from across the state have sent their professionals to visit St. James R-I Schools to learn how to design a similar alternative school format in their districts. The activities of the St. James R-I Alternative School embraces the mission of the district to “empower students through caring relationships, academic excellence, and community partnerships.”