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Delavan-Darien students get second chance at graduation

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ANN MARIE AMES
November 18, 2009
— A year ago, graduating seemed out of reach to Josue Hernandez.

He wasn't going to class, and he was 13 credits short of graduating with the Delavan-Darien High School class of 2010.


Today, Hernandez wakes up in the morning and looks forward to school.


"Ever since I've been here, I've worked harder than in regular school," Hernandez said. "I rarely miss school."


Was it a miracle?


No. Hernandez is one of 16 students signed up for or participating in the first semester of an alternative graduation program at Delavan-Darien High School.


The class is geared for juniors, seniors and "fifth-year seniors" who are at risk of failing to graduate. The program is paid for by a $90,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.


Instead of attending a full school day, students in the program have class for 2 hours and 15 minutes a day. In addition, they are required to work at a job or perform community service.


Tuesday morning, Hernandez sat in class meticulously cutting out typed text to paste onto a poster about American government. Other students worked on reports or watched a video about U.S. government.


Every day, students have assigned math and English work. They correct a sentence, do some math problems and write in their journals.


Then they are free to work on the subject matter they need to study.


In the alternative program, credits are broken down into competencies. For example, the science competencies include machines, electronics, energy, chemistry, analysis, geometry, maps, data collection and graphing.


The class includes 63 competencies, and teacher Dustin Arthur still is writing lesson plans for some of them. He started work in the district this year.


Each student has a checklist of competencies taped to the wall, and each line is checked as students reach their goals, said Ashley Contreras, the district's community outreach worker.


It helps the students who are behind in school see a light at the end of the tunnel, she said.


"They can see it's feasible," Contreras said. "They say, ‘OK. I can accomplish this. I can do this.'"


Students go at their own pace to learn the information they need, Contreras said. Class work includes a lot of hands-on activities and field trips. For example, students toured and conducted interviews at the city of Delavan municipal building, the Walworth County government complex and the Wisconsin Capitol while learning about government.


On average, it takes a student two weeks to complete a competency, Contreras said.


Student Moises Hernandez, who was in jeopardy of failing to graduate in 2010, said he likes that he can focus his energy on just what he needs to during short class periods.


"You're only here two hours and 15 minutes," Moises said. "You come to do what you've got to do and go home to have time for yourself."


He and his twin brother, Josue, cook at Culver's to fulfill the work requirement for the program.


They both raved about the program, as did other students in the classroom. Students told the Gazette they were learning, making progress and getting along with each other.


And they're enjoying themselves, said student Corey Barksdale, 19, who is on track to be one of the first to graduate from the program.


"Nobody has to force us to be here," he said.



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