By Adam Armour
Itawamba County Times
There’s a reason the county school district’s alternative school isn’t called that any more.
Once upon a time, the Itawamba County Alternative School’s primary role was to teach county students with disciplinary problems … kids whose behavior disrupted their regular classroom or who had fallen far behind in their classes.
But several years ago, the school changed its name to the Itawamba County Improvement Center to better reflect the growing number of programs it offered, which extended far beyond helping kids with disciplinary problems.
“We have parents who are under the impression that that’s all we do,” said the school’s principal, Sungja Collins.
These days, that’s a small portion of what the school does. Every day, between 150 and 200 kids pass through the Improvement Center’s doors. Of these, only 10 or so are there for disciplinary reasons. The rest of the students at the Improvement Center are trying to catch up on missed school, taking one more swing at a class they didn’t pass, studying for the GED or getting a head start on college.
According to Collins, no matter the student’s situation, age or grade level, the goal of the Improvement Center is the same: Prepare the student for the next step of his or her life, whatever that may be.
“The population is constantly changing; their needs are constantly changing; we have to change to meet that population and those needs,” Collins said.
Take, for example, the school’s credit recovery program, which allows students who have failed or are failing a class to try to earn credit for it by passing a short, intensive course. It’s been the saving grace for some seniors who failed a class the first go-around for one reason or another.
Once the course is completed, the credits transfer back to the student’s high school, as if they never missed a beat.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the school’s dual-credit program allows students who are excelling at high school to get a jump on college. Like its name implies, the dual-credit program allows eligible students to take courses that give high school and college credit simultaneously.
The program was introduced two years ago and has been steadily growing ever since.
Collins said students who are eligible for dual-enrollment take their courses at a significant discount and even get their books free.
The school offers a transition program to help students who have had to miss school due to physical or mental illness. It’s a 10-day program that reintroduces them to the classroom. Collins said students often aren’t excited about the idea of the transition program but are always grateful to have taken it once it’s completed.
The school also offers a GED program for students thinking about dropping out of high school.
Of course, the disciplinary program is still a big part of the school. It’s the most challenging program the school offers. Students can be in any grade and have any number of academic and behavioral challenges to overcome.
The Improvement Center’s teachers do a good job, she said. It takes passion and patience to work with kids who are having disciplinary issues, which often stem from problems outside the school.
The biggest challenge, Collins said, is trying to do the most they can with limited resources. The school operates with only a handful of teachers, several of whom are only there for one or two classes a day. With the breadth of students catered to by the school, juggling the different programs can be difficult.
“You have to meet every student’s needs, and you have so many students over here,” she said.