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Offering more time to learn

District extends high school day for truants

May 15, 2012

West Allis - High school kids who are truant or otherwise feel that education doesn't fit in their lives are just the ones the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District will be looking for.

This fall, the district will start an ambitious effort to reach out to those students one last time through a new extended day school program.

The voluntary Extended Day School would be from 3:30 to 8:30 p.m. weekdays, plus Saturday morning sessions twice a month. Parents will be involved to help keep their children on track.

Reconnecting with lives

Some kids don't come to school because they have unusual family commitments that make attending school during the day difficult, said Superintendent Kurt Wachholz. For them, the program will provide more flexibility.

Others who have simply rejected school might be harder to reconnect, but the district wants to try.

"Chronic truants have given up hope," said West Allis Central High School Principal Paul Mielke, noting that schools have tried to make adjustments to help them hang on, but there is only so much a big high school can do.

Extended Day School is viewed as a way to show those students that school has not given up on them.

"We care about them," Wachholz said.

For whatever reason, the kids are in danger of losing an opportunity for a decent life, and the district recognizes its role in preventing that outcome, he said.

"Kids need to learn and succeed for life and for the next generation," Wachholz said. "and ultimately become contributing members of society."

The goal is to re-engage students with schools so that they can go back to their regular high schools and graduate.

"Once we hook them and they experience success, then we can see what opportunities there are," Wachholz said.

Supportive approach

Besides having different hours than regular high schools, students and parents will develop goals with teachers and meet monthly to check progress. Other support will be available, as well.

Once the goals are met, the expectation is for students to go back to their regular high schools.

By late fall, school officials expect the program to expand to include students with behavior problems. The school will take the same approach - developing personal goals and parental involvement.

Extended Day School, staffed by four teachers, will not add any cost because teachers will be freed up through changes in another program, Wachholz said. That program, which helps students recover academic credits, will continue in a different form.

About 130 students are expected to participate initially in Extended Day School, Wachholz said. Classes will be held in the building housing the district offices or nearby in the Alternative Learning Center building.

In expanding Extended Day School to working with students with behavior issues, educators will be working off a model used successfully by the Minneapolis schools for about 15 years, Wachholz said.

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