Go back to high school.
Local student Makiah Hanning dropped out of school to pursue a job that ultimately didn’t work out. Luckily, however, a caring teacher caught up with her and convinced her to return.
“I was really close to graduating, but I got a job and I dropped out because I thought that was a path I wanted to go down,” Hanning said. “One of the teachers at Pathways got ahold of me, and told me that I needed to come back; that I needed to graduate.”
Hanning is currently a dual enrollment student at Jonesville Pathways Alternative High School and Jonesville Community College, pursuing a career in medicine.
“I feel like I’m a step ahead in the goals that I have for my future, and I have Jonesville Pathways to thank for that,” she said. “Thanks to them, I’m back, I’m dual-enrolled, and I’m going to graduate this year.”
Pathways, located in Jonesville, Michigan opened Sept. 6 to give students struggling with the traditional high school environment an alternate route to success. The school gives students more flexibility and individual attention than traditional high schools by offering online classes, which range from Latin to video game design. The school helps students earn their diplomas and prepare for the professional world despite obstacles in their personal lives, Pathways principal Eric Swihart said.
“The traditional setting is not for everyone,” Swihart said. “Students don’t find engagement in the traditional school setting, sitting in a classroom for an hour at a desk, if there’s an obstacle in their life or if there’s been some kind of trauma.”
According to Swihart, students are in the driver’s seat at Pathways, setting their own pace and holding themselves accountable for their own progress.
“They feel like they have a little more control over their education, and they feel more invested because they’re in control,” he said.
Pathways also offers online classes. Although school is in session daily, a “seat time waiver” makes it possible for students who cannot attend in person a chance to complete their education electronically, Swihart said.
“They can become a student without setting foot on campus if for some reason they’re not able to physically attend the school,” Swihart said. “They can still work with our teachers via email, phone calls, and Skype, and work through curriculum that way.”
Pathways junior Haley Stump said the school makes it possible for her to attend high school while working during the week.
“If you have a job, they work around it,” she said. “I work on a farm, and I don’t have time. But they schedule with you so you can do your work on the weekends. They make it flexible with the schedule that you have. You don’t necessarily have to be there every day.”
Pathways senior Haley Cotter said she loves the online approach because it allows her to customize her learning experience.
“I think the best thing about Pathways is the online courses,” Cotter said. “At most schools, you all go at the same pace. But online, you’re able to go at your own pace, so that you really know all the content and you don’t have to keep going through it when you already know it. You take the time that you need to understand it and you move on when you’re ready.”
Pathways teacher Mike Corey agreed that the Pathways approach makes it possible for teachers to meet the needs of each individual student.
“We don’t have a canned program that everyone goes through,” he said. “We have a prescriptive program we develop with the needs of each individual student in mind.”
Pathways also works with juvenile delinquents, trying to keep them on an academic track similar to the one offered at their home school so they can seamlessly re-enter it after they are released, Swihart said.
Pathways’ “school-to-work” program introduces students to careers and opportunities in their area and prepares them to succeed in those occupations. Although there is no particular field that most students enter, Corey said, the options range from manufacturing to medical work.
“The goal of our career preparation program is to help students become employable, help develop their employability skills, and ultimately place them in a job,” Corey said. “They’ll either be enrolled in another learning opportunity after they graduate, or, hopefully, they’ll have a job so they can move right into the world of work.”
Pathways evolved out of the Phoenix Alternative School, which offered similar services to Jonesville students for 20 years, but lacked the flexibility and career preparation that Pathways now offers, Swihart said.
Both students and staff compared Pathways to a family, praising the school’s supportive environment.
“The most rewarding thing about working at Pathways is that when the kids come in, they know that they’re in a caring environment — it feels like a family.” Swihart said. “It’s truly a family atmosphere, because we’re small enough where you know everyone. It’s like brothers and sisters. That’s not something you can duplicate in a larger school.”
Cotter agreed that Pathways feels like home to its students.
“We all work together and become one,” Cotter said. “Some of us know each other’s stories or pasts. And not only are the teachers just teachers to us, they’re like parents. They don’t just guide us in our schoolwork; they guide us in life.”
According to Hanning, Pathways’ unique approach has given her and her classmates a chance to succeed that they could not get anywhere else.
“I believe Pathways gives you something that a normal high school can’t,” she said. “They recognize the fact that we do have things outside of school that contribute to how we perform here, and that we can’t attend a normal high school. They give us opportunities that a normal high school can’t.”