ROCHESTER — Not every student learns the same way. But that certainly doesn’t mean some students aren’t capable of learning.
That is certainly part of the mission of the alternative to suspension and expulsion program through the Rochester School Corporation.
Housed in the Rochester Learning Center next to Ivy Tech Rochester, the ASE program is led by a man with a passion to see every student have the opportunity to succeed and graduate with a Rochester High School diploma. Mike Clair has been leading the program since its inception April 3, 2006. The program was created under the direction of then RSC Superintendent Deb Howe, who tasked Clair with the program to help students who were having a difficult time in following the more traditional path to high school graduation, whether because of disciplinary issues, multiple absences or other reasons affecting their ability to earn their education.
The program offers students the opportunity to learn at their own pace using a computer as their personal classroom. After they complete a course, the ASE program reports their progress to the high school so that student receives the proper credit toward graduation. For some students, this type of learning even allows them to accelerate their education and earn enough credits to graduate earlier than their classmates.
Clair emphasized some students are much better suited for this type of learning environment. In surveying the classroom, it simply features computers facing outer walls with Clair and his assistant, Deanna VandenBossche, readily accessible in the center. The students work independently, free of the noise, distractions and drama that often is found in the other school buildings.
As of last week, there were 35 students enrolled in the ASE program, ranging from eighth grade through seniors. In the past, they’ve had students as early as fifth grade, but Clair said the program really is best suited for students starting in sixth grade. The school administration refers students to the program on a rolling basis throughout the year as situations arise and change. In fact, there were two more students Clair anticipated adding to the program this week. Sometimes, seniors are sent to the program toward the end of the school year when it is realized they are not on track to graduate. They are able to finish their diploma by taking the non-traditional curriculum offered by ASE so they can walk with their classmates in the spring.
“People will call from outside the corporation asking if their child can enroll in ASE,” he noted. “But this is only for Rochester students.”
When the program began, Clair said the ASE students were not allowed to ride the school bus nor walk during graduation. That changed quickly, however, and they now are allowed to do both, as long as they behave according to the rules.
Clair is passionate about his job and sees it as a mission to give these students a chance they might not otherwise have. “I’m 120% old school,” he said. “These students do things Mr. Clair’s way if they want to be part of this program.”
The ASE program has thus far graduated 96 students, including 23 last school year. That’s nearly 100 students Clair believes would not have earned diplomas without ASE. He added Superintendent Jana Vance allows him to run the program as he sees fit. When the program started, many in the administration had doubts about whether or not it would succeed.
“I told them, if you put me on it, it will work, and it did,” he said. “I love this program and I wouldn’t want to teach anywhere else!”