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A new start for New Beginnings

The location has changed, but alternative high school remains 'like a family'

“My style.”
“Safe here.”
“Like a family.“
“I feel supported.”

These are familiar phrases when New Beginnings students are asked about their high school.

While the location of the school, which offers an alternative to traditional classrooms, has moved from a section inside Red Hawk Elementary to a large open room in the high school, the students still voice the benefits.

Monique Rosas said that she transferred to New Beginnings because she “was behind on credits.” While she first thought that once caught up she might return to the high school, she “soon discovered it was just my speed.”

“It is just like a huge family here and we are so close to each other,” she said. About the move: “Well, it changed a little but there isn’t a huge difference.”

Senior James Myers admitted he was concerned when he heard about the pending move. “High school was too stressful for me. I really got a fresh start at New Beginnings and now they were moving back,” he said. “But it is still really like our own school. We are still with our own group of friends and that keeps us strong.”

Madisen Lewis (left) and Gloria Bliss-Ramos work together on a project

More Help and Relationships

A major difference between attending traditional classes and New Beginnings, according to students, is the individual attention received and strong relationships with teachers.

“The teachers here are not just teachers — they are our friends,” said senior Gloria Bliss-Ramos. “They get really close to you.”

“At the high school, classes are bigger and sometimes you are afraid to ask for help,” said James. “Teachers at the high school helped but they get backed up and just can’t. Here they don’t expect you to be amazing. The whole point is to graduate.”

New Beginnings teacher Julia Wilcox is quick to point out that “teachers in regular classrooms would love to do what we do — meet with them individually and have time to build a relationship with each one — but it is different here than in the regular classroom.”

The alternative program attracts students who are struggling with things such as anxiety, family issues, or socialization, according to Wilcox. “These students are not bad kids, but generally for some reason, they just didn’t fit in,” she said.

James said he wanted to avoid bullying. Gloria is a teen mother, who found support from the staff as well as adjusted time schedules to help her get to the ultimate goal: graduation. Madisen Lewis, who transferred to New Beginnings from a neighboring district, said that the death of her mother left her so empty that she couldn’t concentrate on school. “I needed time to grieve,” she said.

Wilcox explained, “I have learned to teach the basics. I see them as humans first and know that we need to meet emotional needs before we can meet academic needs. I definitely worry about my kids and care about them like I do my own. Sometimes one of them actually calls me ‘mom.’ I just let it slide.”

There are two full time teachers at New Beginnings High School with one teaching language arts and one teaching math. Other courses are taken as independent study, with the teachers supervising and making sure students are earning credits for graduation.

Monique Rosas spends some time reading during class

More Options for Students

“The rationale behind the move as it was explained to me was twofold,” said Superintendent Scott Smith, who took the district helm after the decision to move New Beginnings was made.

“First, by moving … to the high school, our New Beginnings students would have access to courses and programs that they would not otherwise be able to take had the program remained at Red Hawk,” Smith said. “It was also noted that the high school provided New Beginnings students with an opportunity to interact with a more age-appropriate peer group.”

High school Principal Ron Behrenwald agreed, pointing that students can now take “teacher led classes such as world languages and fine arts.” Another benefit for the students, he said, is “direct access to more services like career counseling as well as mental health and at-risk resources.”

Wilcox confirmed that some of the students are now taking choir, art and physical education. The students also mentioned seeing friends, using the main cafeteria and participating with sports teams and clubs as benefits of the move.

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst was a reporter for SNN covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts.


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