‘A chance to be a student’

Program offers MHS students an opportunity to get back on track to graduation

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS MHS Junior Matthew Drummer has earned 8 class credits in less than a school year in the Pier program, and could earn as many as 3 more before year’s end.

For some students at Marshalltown High School, life comes with barriers that make attending class and performing well extremely difficult, and there’s a program designed to get them back on track.

“It’s an accelerated way of earning credits for the already credit-deficient student,” said MHS counselor Lydia Arevalo of the school’s Pier program.

Now coming to the end of it’s first year, the Pier was designed as a kind of “school within a school,” Arevalo said. The goal is to help students who are credit-deficient to focus on getting classwork done in order to graduate with their class.

MHS Dean of Students Dan Terrones said the Pier is a volunteer program.

“I helped, initially with the identification of the student and meeting with the parents and making that invitation to the student,” he said. “When we first identified these students, really it was that credit deficiency and the barriers they had that we identified.”

Terrones said students in the Pier were connected to the school, and said they could be seen attending or giving an effort to do so, but barriers in their lives made such a thing difficult.

“There are a lot of low-income issues, moms and dads working,” said MHS English instructor Laurie Rink, who has worked as the Pier’s only full-time instructor this year. “There are responsibilities of having to take care of the siblings, taking them to and from school … sometimes parents aren’t responsible in other ways, and it’s a burden on the kids.”

Additionally, Rink said many students work full-time outside of school to help support the family.

School resource specialist Scott Johannes said students in Pier are encouraged by staff, and that time management is key.

“It’s helping them deal with, in so many ways, life as grown-ups at 15, 16, 17 years old,” he said. “A lot of our students don’t have the opportunity to be a student.”

He said some students in the program act as translators and “go-betweens” for parents who may not speak English. Given the opportunity to concentrate on classes like a traditional high school student, Johannes said Pier students would likely be able to keep on-track.

Edgar Alvez, a senior who started the 2016-17 school year with 9.25 credits, rather than the on-track amount of 15.5.

“Down here, there’s no time limit,” he said, adding he’s allowed to concentrate on classes better in the Pier than “upstairs.”

Alvez finished his final credit Friday, and will graduate with his peers.

Junior Matthew Drummer said the traditional high school environment wasn’t optimal for his learning.

“Usually, it (the Pier) works a lot better,” he said. “I don’t deal with being stuck in a place and not being able to leave.”

Drummer he didn’t have anywhere else to turn when the Pier became an option. He started his junior year at 1.25 credits and has gained 8 so far this year, with the possibility of earning an additional 3 before the school year ends.

He also said he’s dealt with anxiety, which over the last 6 years may have contributed to not making it to classes.

“It’s been pretty good so far,” he said.

Arevalo said there will be at least one change in the program beginning next school year.

“Some of those students in 10th and 11th grade will roll over and stay in the Pier, as long as they want to stay in it up until graduation,” she said. “But we’ve found that this program has really been successful for seniors, and so going into next year, the only new students that we’re going to invite to the program will be seniors.”

Marshalltown Learning Academy, she said, will focus on freshmen and sophomore students.

“Hopefully, we’ll start preventing more seniors from getting into this predicament,” Arevalo said.

By the numbers

Administrators and instructors provided demographic and statistical data about the Pier program.

Currently, 41 male students and 36 female students were in the program, with 11 and 19 graduating, respectively. There are five sophomores, 16 juniors and 56 seniors.

The population of the Pier is as follows: 64 percent Hispanic, 30 percent white and 6 percent African American. Of the Hispanic males, 47 percent are employed outside of school. Additionally, 38 percent of Pier students are classified as English language learners (ELL) and 58 percent qualify for federal Free and Reduced Lunch.

Arevalo said many of these numbers are similar to those found in the traditional MHS population.

As far as graduation, 86 percent of students, from sophomores to seniors, are on-track to graduate. The remaining 14 percent are behind-track, but can still get themselves back on-track to graduate with their peers.

“The Pier will be an ever-changing program based on the needs arising with each class of students,” Arevalo said.