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Friday, 19 February 2016 09:59

Community involvement, team building inspire alternative high school students

Written by  Dennis Hines
Jeff Messer, left, has students draw cards during a recent team-building activity at Milton Edgerton Clinton Alternative School in Milton. Messer, of Incorporating the Invisible, visits the school several times a year to help students work on skills with which they might struggle. Jeff Messer, left, has students draw cards during a recent team-building activity at Milton Edgerton Clinton Alternative School in Milton. Messer, of Incorporating the Invisible, visits the school several times a year to help students work on skills with which they might struggle. Dennis Hines

JANESVILLE MESSENGER -- For Tim Owens, going out in the community and helping others breaks up the monotony of a regular school day.

Owens, 15, of Edgerton, is a sophomore at Milton Edgerton Clinton Alternative School in Milton. The school offers a community service class in which students visit different locations throughout the week to work on projects. The students may perform tasks at The Gathering Place community center, Doug’s Tree Moving, the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin or Rock Haven nursing home. The students also may work with elementary school students during their gym classes, perform seasonal work or host blood drives as part of the community service class.

“It’s more hands-on because we’re not sitting at a desk,” Owens said. “Every time you go out, it’s something different. It’s always a new experience.”

Senior Steven Tucker said the class gives him an opportunity to be involved in the community. The 17-year-old Madison resident said he enjoys working on different projects.

“It feels good to help out with the community... “ Tucker said. “It really helps with your work ethic because you’re doing different things.”

Junior Jazzmyne Weihert said, besides the community service work, the class gives students the opportunity to work together as a team.

“Community service is a really big part, because it kind of brings our whole school together,” said Weihert, 16, of Milton. “It’s a lot easier to get us to participate when we’re all doing something together as a group than sitting (at a desk) and looking at a packet.”

Weihert said one of her favorite places to work is the humane society, where she and the other students do laundry, wash dishes and interact with the animals.

“We all love going there,” Weihert said. “We love playing with the kittens and the dogs.”

The community service class helps students develop skills for future employment, Tucker said.

“If you want to be a teacher, you can go and work with kids,” Tucker said. “With Rock Haven, you can learn to be a CNA. When you go for those jobs, you can say you have that experience.”

Community service experience helps students learn how to act on the job and how to respect people in authority, Weihert said.

“Doing community service and having to do things a certain way with certain people, you can’t be disrespectful,” Weihert said. “You have to be on your best behavior when you go out because we’re representing our school every time we go out.”

Jane Dooley, a teacher at MECAS, said the community service class gives the students a sense of accomplishment.

“Our kids are generally going to stay in the community, so we really want them to feel like they are a part of the community,” Dooley said. “The people at The Gathering Place have really embraced our kids. It’s just really good for them to get out and give back and to see that the world is a little bigger than just them, because the high school world is rather small.”

Besides the community service class, Jeff Messer of Incorporating the Invisible in Edgerton visits the school about three times a year to work on team-building activities with the students, Dooley said.

“It’s kind of posing a problem and having the kids find a solution,” Dooley said. “It could be a maze on the floor and trying to get an object from one end of the room to another or to see how high they can stack things.

“It’s seeing how they can make the impossible, possible. (Messer) brings in a wide variety of projects.”

Messer said the focus of the projects is to help students improve their communication skills.

“Some people would call it team building. Some people would call it problem solving … ,” Messer said. “It’s not one size fits all. The staff at MECAS tries to have me work on skills that the students are really having a hard time with. By working together, they’re improving skills that they’re not doing so well with.”

Messer said he enjoys visiting the school and working with the students.

“It’s fun. Even though it’s usually the same activities, it’s different personalities, so it’s never the same outcome,” he said. “I enjoy seeing the more quiet and shy kids add solutions and ideas to solve a problem. It’s like they become the starting quarterback or head cheerleader. It shows that they could add something to a class discussion.”

MECAS, located in the Milton School District building, is for high school-age students who live in the Milton, Edgerton and Clinton school districts who had difficulties attending a regular high school, Dooley said.

About 20 students currently are enrolled. The school has two main teachers -- Dooley and Josh Weiss.

Besides the community service class and team-building projects, the students still must work on their core subjects.

“There is an educational piece and they do have to do their class work,” Dooley said. “Our kids need credits to graduate, so they still need to do their math, science and English, just in a different way.”

Most of the students are recommended by their school district and have to complete an application before attending MECAS, Dooley said.

“With our kids, there’s reasons why they didn’t get along in high school or do well, so those are the things we really try to focus on,” Dooley said. “We teach the students how to problem solve and how to communicate.”

Owens said attending MECAS has helped him stay more focused on his schoolwork.

“It’s a better environment,” Owens said. “I never went to class in high school anyway, and it’s easier to do work (at MECAS).”

Tucker said his grades have improved since attending MECAS and he is now more confident about graduating.

“For me, it was a better opportunity to graduate early,” Tucker said. “I can actually get my work done because I never got my work done back in high school.”

Weihert said she has found the teachers to be very supportive.

“The teachers here are pushing you to do better,” Weihert said. “They want you to do the best that you can, and they care about you.”

Weihert said she gets along better with the students at MECAS than students at her previous school.

“I was getting into a lot of fights. It was a very bad place, and I didn’t do any work or come to school,” Weihert said. “This place gave me an opportunity to get my life back on track.”

Besides helping others through community service, the students get a chance to know area residents and show them what the alternative high school program is all about, Dooley said.

“Hopefully, we’re doing some good things with the community. I think it’s nice for (people) to see our kids in a different light,” she said. “People tend to think of alternative schools as a negative thing, and it’s not true.

“It’s a different way to go through school.”

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