News

Midway High School gets a makeover

The biggest challenge for the students who attend Midway High School in Oak Harbor is not algebra, English or history. It’s overcoming the stigma of going there in the first place.

Midway, so named because of its location on Midway Boulevard, is a place where high school students can go full or part time to catch up on credits, work independently, and get the attention they feel is lacking at a conventional high school. It is not just a school for slackers or misfits, as they are often labeled by other students — or teachers.

The alternative high school has struggled with image and location problems in the past, but this school year marks a new direction for the school, with the return to Midway Boulevard and the addition of direct instruction by energized teachers.

“It’s a clean slate this year,” Leandra Reuble, newly appointed English teacher, said.

New principal,

new direction

That clean slate is due in large part to Midway Principal Cynthia Shelton. She took what was a worksheet and computer-based program and turned it into a real school. The transition began last year, and this year there are now four teachers and an instructional assistant.

Shelton said when she took over the school last year, in addition to her duties as high school Career and Technical Education director, it was a place to simply make up credits, not actively learn.

“That’s the change,” she said. “We now have teachers who are dedicated to the students reaching their potential.”

Whereas students used to just get their credits and leave, or drop out with completing credits, Shelton said she thinks that will change.

“I don’t think we will lose kids now.”

Shelly Gibson and lead teacher David Smith teach math, Reuble teaches English, Ed Coleman teaches work-based learning and Debbi Holt does double duty as instructional assistant and registrar.

Smith, who has been at the school for seven years, said the biggest reward is seeing students succeed who were told they couldn’t.

“These are kids with issues, not problems,” he said.

Students like

the changes

Student Ken Ruch was told by a high school math teacher that he “didn’t have what it takes” to pass high school geometry.

“I didn’t like that guy at all,” Ruch said.

At Midway he completed an Internet-based geometry class in eight days. And scored a 91 on the final. Ruch lost a year of school because he didn’t do well in the traditional high school environment. He’s now a “fifth year senior,” but expects to graduate in June. The young man who hopes to join the military after graduation is currently taking World History and Advanced Placement American Government.

“It’s hard, but I guess that’s why they call it AP,” he said.

At another computer, high school junior Jeremiah Turnek was doing a physics lesson. With an online program called Nova Net, students are able to complete work at their own pace, with teachers on hand to help if they get stuck. Turnek likes the system a lot better than traditional classes.

“Here the teachers can sit and talk to you about your work,” he said.

Turnek has been taking classes at Midway for two years, after “goofing around” and getting behind on credits in his freshman year. Now, he wants to attend a four-year college or a technical college to study engineering.

The “slacker” image doesn’t seem to fit these students. Many put in six periods at the high school, then come to Midway to work on making up credits.

Sabrina Henley, a senior, comes to Midway after a full day to take classes in math, health and media communications. She is at Midway from 3 to 8 p.m., but doesn’t mind the long day.

Settled on a couch in the language arts room, she described the school: “It’s a comfortable environment. You want to come here.”

Flexibility with high expectations

The school has 24 students who attend Midway full time, and close to 40 who attend part time. Smith said that number grows at the end of the year, as seniors flock in for “credit retrieval,” completing credits for graduation. Last year 14 percent of the graduating class used Midway to salvage their credits and graduate on time.

Flexibility is one of the key features of the school, with instructors on hand from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“Not all kids fit the high school mold,” Smith said. With Midway, they don’t have to.

Students can either take the small group direct instruction classes or work at their own pace in the self-directed computer-based classes. This works well for teen mothers, who can resume their schooling after their babies are born. Smith said one possible future idea for the school would be to offer a daycare with an educational Early Childhood Development component. The young mothers could learn to be parents as well as students.

The school has high expectations for its students. They must attend regularly, make measurable progress according to an individual Student Learning Plan, and be working on academic studies while on campus. Students who drop out of Midway get only one chance to re-enroll. It’s not a revolving door.

Housed in two blue portable classrooms, Midway is a separate school from Oak Harbor High School, with its own budget. It started the year with $18,000, of which $10,000 was used to pay for 10 Nova Net portals, at $1,000 apiece.

Smith said being physically separate from the high school is a good thing. “We don’t want to be a ‘mini me’ of the high school,” he said.

Direct instruction classed being offered this fall include algebra and pre-algebra, Math Matters, geometry, English 9 and 10, creative writing, literature for young adults, American literature, intermediate writing and media communications. The students will be publishing a state-wide culinary arts newsletter, and Shelton said next quarter the school will add social studies classes.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at mmiller@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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