By: Sophia Marcinek ’20
Every Wednesday I take my little sister to school. We blast the radio and sing along to every song from The Lion King to Drake. But one Wednesday morning in December when I dropped her off, instead of just driving off, I got out with her. Students waited outside to be let in at exactly 8:10. Some students wore their hoods up and kept their ear buds in not wanting to talk to socialize, others played their music out loud and chatted with each other, but one student in particular was different.
Riley, a young boy no more than 13, came up to me, introduced himself and told me that it was his second day at school. He shook my hand firmly and asked how I was doing. I stood a bit in shock that this boy had come up to me but a smile came to my face as I shook his hand and introduced myself back. When 8:10 hit the doors were immediately opened by a large man, wearing a shirt saying SECURITY, invited the maybe 30 students that had shown up to school, in to start their day. As the students walked in, each of them jumped up to see who could hit the top of the door frame right below the sign that read, Joliet Learning Center.
The Joliet Learning Center (JLC) is one of many alternative learning programs in Colorado. The program at JLC is targeted towards students with mental health problems and emotional disabilities. The students at JLC spend the day in highly structured classes and getting individual care throughout school hours, from various social workers, therapists, and their teachers as well. There are 40 students enrolled in the high school program, and there is around 14 staff members on campus at all times. Ann Kalfas has been a social worker at JLC for two years.
“Here there is no two days that are the same, we have to shift and make the changes we need to based on need,” she said. “We have new kids come in often and each of the kids that comes in here is so different and it’s our job as a staff to make changes based on their unique needs. Being prepared for change is a part of the Job.”
The students that attend JLC are set up to succeed. In traditional schooling many of the students, no matter how hard they try, end up behind and emotionally in a bad place. The Joliet Learning Center recognizes the different and unique needs of each student and fits the curriculum to try to help the students learn how to succeed. Without alternative learning programs dropout rates would be higher and the many students that have found a home within these environments would not be given the opportunity to make a connection to education. Programs like JLC not only help these students get through high school but these programs help these kids wake up and get through each day. The education that these students receive is invaluable and is such an important part of who they will become.
Since my sister started attending JLC the change in her attitude towards school has completely changed. I see everyday the effect that JLC has on the students and families that are apart of this program.
It is so important to give these kids the opportunity to know what success feels like and for a lot of students, like my sister, this success does more than make them feel better it helps make what seems to be an endless tunnel, have some sort of light.
I still drive my sister to school every Wednesday morning. We still listen to Drake and The Lion King, but more frequently I find myself outside of the car and in front of the school, and everyday Riley greets me with a handshake and a smile.