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18367 8th Avenue South, Burien, WA 98148 | 206.631.7630 | Principal Michael Sita
School Report Card
Student & Parent Access
School Profile Feb 2011
CHOICE Academy Profile - February 2011
Where do students go to school from 8:00 a.m. until noon Monday through Thursday and spend the rest of their time doing something they love – dance lessons, athletics, photography—and earn school credit for it? It sounds like a teenager’s dream, but it’s for real. It’s Highline’s CHOICE Academy.
CHOICE was named a 2010 School of Distinction. The award recognizes the top five percent of schools in the state showing the most improvement on the state math and reading tests. Pictured are Coordinator Michael Sita and counselor Andrea Love.
CHOICE is a unique school of about 50 students in grades 7 through 12, offering core academics in a way that is very different from a traditional middle or high school. Students take math, science, language arts, and social studies here, but they earn elective credits and all their other graduation requirements outside their abbreviated school day.
Just before the morning bell rings at 8:00 a.m., chattering teens carry their backpacks down the school hallway toward their classrooms. It looks a lot like any high school except at CHOICE, this short hall with two classrooms, a student lounge, and a computer lab is the whole school.
The day starts with advisory class, with no more than 15 students to each teacher or staff member. “It’s very personalized,” says
Coordinator of Secondary Alternative Programs Michael Sita
. “I think of advisory as the ‘dinner table’ at school.”
With their advisors, students manage their learning plans, which document their out-of-school electives or “alternative learning experiences” (ALE). An ALE might be a P.E. credit for playing on a rec league soccer team, a career/technical education credit for learning how to work on a car, a fine arts credit for taking piano lessons, or an elective credit for working on a community- service project. Students can pursue an activity they are passionate about or learn a totally new skill, and earn graduation credits in the process. To earn credit, students must have a written description of the learning experience, learning goals they will meet, and a minimum number of hours they will spend on it.
Students explore Navigation 101 college planning curriculum during advisory.
Also in advisory, students work on college planning using Navigation 101, a computer-based curriculum used in many other secondary schools. Preparing for college is a major focus of advisory, starting in 7th grade.
After 30 minutes in advisory, the students split up between the two teachers on staff; middle school students study math and science with
, while humanities teacher
works with high schoolers on language arts and social studies. Halfway through the morning, the groups switch teachers.
High school students in language arts class with Kay Greenburg.
In order to meet the range of learning needs in a multi-grade classroom, much of the math instruction is online or in small groups. In the humanities, assignments and expectations can be modified for different grade levels and even for individual students’ learning needs.
In the afternoon, both teachers offer optional elective classes, such as yearbook and journalism. Wheeler teaches a one-semester health course that all students have to take before graduation.
George Wheeler teaching middle school science.
Though Friday is not a regular school, students who are falling behind are required to come in for extra help. And all students have assignments to complete. “Friday really is a school day, it’s just that students are expected to do the work at home,” says Wheeler.
In their junior and senior years, students’ learning plans typically take them off campus. Most enroll in Running Start, taking courses at a community college tuition-free. They earn both high school and college credit simultaneously. By the time they graduate high school, many students have also completed an associate’s degree.
Beyond its unique schedule, the thing that makes CHOICE different is the relationships.
“CHOICE is a perfect balance between a school and a family-like community,” says
, CHOICE’s part-time counselor. “You can’t slip through the cracks here. You just can’t.”
“CHOICE is a small trusting community,” says 7th grader
. “You get to know everyone and discover what is unique about each of them. You could never do that in a large school.”
“It’s kind of cool because I know every single kid here,” says 10th grader
. “There are no cliques.”
“When I first came to CHOICE, I was afraid I wouldn’t have as many social opportunities as the large middle school would offer,” says Megan. “What I am finding is that because it is safe and small, I have an even better social time than in a big school. It’s not intimidating.”
Students bristle at the stereotypes that come along with the label “alternative school.”
“People think you’re here because you can’t make it in a ‘normal’ school,” says Korey. “This is not a school for bad kids or kids who are failing.”
“We may be a different or smaller school, but we’re just like regular high school and middle school kids!” echoes 9th grader Jennie Cowin.
A number of students here were homeschooled in their elementary years. But many students come from traditional schools.
attended White Center Heights Elementary. “I just like the idea of a smaller school,” she says. “There’s not as much drama, and you get more attention from the teacher.”
That individual attention is what parent
loves about CHOICE. “Ms. Greenberg, as my child’s advisor, has gone above and beyond to nurture, support, and develop my child’s particular interest and abilities in creative writing,” says Weinbeck. “He has now nearly completed his first novel, and is talking about submitting it to a publisher.”
Another hallmark of CHOICE is “parent partnership.” Parents are involved in creating their child’s learning plan for the year. And every parent is required to contribute as a volunteer in some way. That might be helping in the classroom, teaching an elective, maintaining the school’s website, writing a grant, or something else. The school works hard to find volunteer opportunities that fit with each parent’s skills and schedule.
“I’ve never seen a parent partnership like this before,” says Andrea Love, the school counselor. “It’s really powerful.”
Dolly Knuth helps a student with math
, Korey’s mom, is passionate about CHOICE. She started out volunteering, but is now the school’s sole paraeducator. She assists students with math, and teaches an advisory and a leadership class. “I have seen students who left their [middle or high school] for a variety of reasons come to CHOICE and thrive after a short time,” she says. “It is a place where kids can come to learn without dealing with the emotional turmoil and drama that comes with being a teenager at a bigger venue.”
“This is a safe place for kids to find out who they are and what they want to be with loving adults and caring classmates spurring them on,” says Knuth. “People who haven’t seen it wouldn’t believe this kind of environment could exist with teenagers.”
calls CHOICE “the best kept secret in the school district.”
“Honestly,” says Knuth, “if families fully understood what CHOICE was all about, we would have a waiting list a mile long.”
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