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A QUICK STUDY: Union-Baker Education Service District Alternative Education Program students, left to right, Nikki King, Jason Neupauer and Perry Christensen study at the ESD's Education Center in Island City. (The Observer/DICK MASON).
A QUICK STUDY: Union-Baker Education Service District Alternative Education Program students, left to right, Nikki King, Jason Neupauer and Perry Christensen study at the ESD's Education Center in Island City. (The Observer/DICK MASON).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Next spring Lyle Mann of the Union-Baker Education Service District will have a dilemma he could have only dreamed of 11 years ago.

The problem? Finding a site large enough for the ESDs 2002 Alternative Education Program graduation ceremony.

Due to program growth, finding a site large enough to accommodate the graduates, their families and friends might be difficult. Commencement was conducted at the Blue Mountain Conference Center last spring and will be there again June 5.

The number of graduates is expected to increase because the ESDs list of alternative school sites is growing, said Mann, the programs director.

The ESD now has program sites in Union, Wallowa, Baker, Malheur, Grant and Umatilla counties

and will soon expand into Wasco County.

The ESD has signed a contract with The Dalles School District to open an alternative school program at The Dalles this fall. The ESD will further strengthen its Wasco County connection by providing alternative education services for youths at the Northern Oregon Correctional Facility in The Dalles beginning this fall.

The ESDs alternative program in Wasco County will be the third the ESD has opened in the past year. Last fall programs opened in Irrigon and Harper. The new sites are among 15 the district now has. There are also alternative education programs in Island City, Enterprise, Wallowa, Halfway, the Hilgard Work/Study Camp, the Union County Correctional Facility, the Grant County Jail in Canyon City, Huntington, John Day, Nyssa, Monument, Stanfield and Unity.

Some of those the programs at Harper, Halfway, Huntington, Monument, Unity, the UCCF and the Grant County Jail are itinerant ones staffed by employees who work part-time.

Mann said it is becoming easier to open new centers because the ESDs blueprint for the program is in place. Things such as the curriculum and the procedure for keeping student records are established and are used at all the alternative education centers.

We dont have to reinvent the wheel every time we open a new center, Mann said.

All the alternative education sites provide opportunities for students to earn high school diplomas and prepare for the GED test. Many centers also provide driver education.

Child care facilities are another feature. The Island City center has a separate day care facility, and there are day care facilities at several other sites. Mann emphasized that students are never discouraged from bringing their children to alternative schools. He said that accommodations will always be made for them.

The alternative schools are for the most part self-supporting. All of the money received for running them comes from contracts the ESD has with school districts and the state.

Over the past school year about 1,500 students have been served by the alternative education


In the 1999-2000 school year, 115 students earned high school diplomas and 126 earned GEDs.

Mann credits much of the success to the members of his staff.

They like kids and are very dedicated, Mann said.

He said the support the program has received from the ESDs board has been instrumental.

The key to running an alternative education program successfully is making sure that student needs are addressed, Mann said.

Teachers focus on vocational and life-skills training. Students at many of the centers, for example, run their own lunch-preparation program, doing meal-planning, budgeting, shopping and more.

Mann said that many of the students would not be in school if not for the alternative option.

We want to help reduce the dropout rate, Mann said.

He said that helping students in alternative education programs can be challenging.

It can be intense, Mann said.

But seeing the smiles of satisfaction on the students faces on graduation night provides educators with a sense of fulfillment.

That night makes it all worthwhile, Mann said.


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