Taking alternate roads to success

Classmates play hard during their physical education hour

Whether the dream is to eventually race motorcycles or own a business, students in the SOAR program at Kent City Middle School are finding ways to make their school careers successful.

Eighth grader Reily Oseguera-Jaramillo shares a light moment with his classmates

Principal Bill Crane and Assistant Principal Jordan Stuhan were exploring options to assure that all students were successful in middle school and ready to tackle the rigors of high school.

Some of the students in the Success on Alternate Roads program — newly implemented this year — were struggling either academically or with behavior in traditional classrooms, Stuhan said.

“Rather than letting kids continue on a path without much success, we thought that this might offer them some skills they were lacking before they headed to high school,” he said.

Students are referred by staff or parents. There are nine students inow, but the number is fluid as more are referred, or students make progress and return to regular classes.

Eighth grader Damian Martinez wants to own his own business someday

Building Relationships, Setting Goals are Key

Eighth grader Reily Oseguera-Jaramillo is quick to say that SOAR “really helps me.” Under the direction of teacher Sara Bjorkman, the program has offered Reily a chance to catch up academically.  He has “earned his way” back into regular classrooms in three subjects, and is set to return to his regular schedule this week.

“I really don’t mind working on my own in some subjects,” he said, “but especially in science, it is good to be able to do experiments with my hands and see stuff instead of just online,”

Stuhan credits Bjorkman for how well SOAR is working, “especially in the specific way she has been able to build relationships with each student.” Those relationships are maintained when they re-enter regular classes.

He also points to her attention to individual progress. Bjorkman said she reviews regularly with each student, even showing them how their grade changes depending on how they score on tests and assignments.

“I think the kids feel good about what they have accomplished and are able to see daily what that is,” Stuhan said. “Some, who didn’t have much success before now, have some surprising new successes.”

Eighth grader Connor Kole said the best part of the SOAR program is being able to work at his own pace. He admits his grades were pretty bad last year, but said “now I am ahead in everything.”

Seventh grader Damian Martinez knows that he struggles with self-discipline, but has his sights set on someday owning his own business. When Bjorkman overheard his life plan, she told him, “That’s a terrific goal, but you should know that in order to own a business, you really need to be disciplined and get things done on your own. I’ll be reminding you of that.”

Individual goals are key for SOAR students. “If they get behind on their online courses or don’t complete what they need to, they get paper homework,” Bjorkman said. “They hate that, and it is kind of motivation for them to stay on pace.”

Eighth grader Hayden Busbee is one of the class recyclers

Meeting Them on the Road

Bjorkman is a veteran teacher of 17 years and in her second year in the district. She also teaches physical education one hour a day, which she says helps build relationships with the students.

“I make sure that they earn their way through academics and behavior,” she said. “I keep track of everything they do in class, and we spend time building social skills, such as respect and attitude. 

“They are completely honest with me. Sometimes, someone needs a different road — and that is where I meet them.”

Reactions were mixed when plans for the SOAR program were first shared and families of potential students identified, Stuhan recalled.

“A number were on board right away, as they had identified already a need for something different for their kids,” he said. “Others were frustrated with schooling and didn’t know what to do. Some thought at least this was something different to try.

“Still others were reluctant to begin with, but within a month or so were very thankful seeing their children on different paths than before, and now are reassured that this is just a transition.”

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst 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 is thrilled to spend some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio or email Janice.

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