MASON CITY, Iowa - The traditional classroom may not always work for some students that have an insecure living situation, behavioral issues, mental health challenges, learning disabilities or a language barrier, which could make it a struggle for some to meet requirements in order to graduate.
Mason City High School principal Dan Long understands that.
"I think a similar goal, to any school district, is helping kids be successful. What you see is educators in our state that are looking for ways to help kids be successful and graduate high school."
This week, the Mason City Board of Education approved an agreement with an online, Iowa-based program to accomplish that goal.
"We recognize that there could be a number of reasons that could be a barrier for a kid making graduation difficult, so we want to leave options for ourselves so kids can be successful."
The program is through the Iowa NET High Academy, a one-on-one program that has courses ranging from math to science and everything in between.
"We recognize that there may be a situation we haven't come across where there's a viable need to use this."
Students are paired with a mentor, where they tailor a plan based on what they want to do after graduation, like cosmetology. They're then set up with a project-based curriculum that follows Iowa Core standards to reach those goals, with constant measurement going to ensure that they're not only on track, but can also fit back in to traditional schooling. In addition, students that utilize Iowa NET remain with their respective school.
The founder of the program, Dr. Cynthia Knight, is an expert in helping students make it through school, having structured programs in special education, math, science and other subjects through the Iowa Department of Education, and is recognized as one of Iowa's forward-thinking leaders in intervention strategies in education. For her, it's personal, as her daughter went through an at-risk program.
"I kept seeing 4,000 kids dropping out every year. I tried to figure how could we educate those kids that won't come or can't come to school, for whatever reason."
In the near 10 years the academy's been operating, she's heard from many who say the program changed them. And even if there is only one student in the district that utilizes it, having the option means something great to her.
"When they have accomplished this type of high school diploma, there's that sense of pride and accomplishment...it is truly amazing."
The program has over 100 students, 101 courses, and has had a more than 80% graduation rate.
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