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Entrance sign for Jonesville High School, which Jonesville Pathways is an alternative to. Evan Carter/Collegian
Entrance sign for Jonesville High School, which Jonesville Pathways is an alter­native to.
Evan Carter/Collegian

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.”