By Tim Ashley
WARSAW — Dave and Mandy Bailey were best friends before they ever started dating and, eventually, were married. They had known each other since they were in preschool.
Both graduated from Warsaw Community High School in 1996. And both were athletes while in high school and later coached sports. “This is home and has always been home for us,” Dave said.
Now the couple do what they can to support students in the Step One alternative education program at WCHS. Dave is a teacher in Step One and Mandy is a mental health counselor in the same program.
Kids in Step One are referred by middle school teachers and are interviewed in eighth grade before being placed in the program. “They (students) are in need of academic or emotional support,” Mandy said. “We help remove the barriers to their success.”
There are multiple reasons students are placed in Step One. Some common struggles include academic need, social anxiety, depression, or external circumstances such as family, motivation, or friend issues. “Our motto is ‘whatever it takes’ and it looks different for every student,” Mandy said.
Step One students are with Dave and two other teachers for one class period per day for their freshman, sophomore and junior years. “It’s kind of a school within a school happening,” Dave said, noting there are about 120 students.
Mandy counsels with students either individually or in groups. “We want to provide a home away from home for them,” she said.
Dave noted a life skills curriculum is used in class based on John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. “Success is being enthusiastic, a good teammate, and communicating well with others,” he said. “We focus on the true meaning of success.”
“What do you need to know for life” is a point of emphasis for juniors. They do internships at local businesses, take small field trips to businesses and also do college visits.
“We want to expose them to the world like we do with our own kids,” Mandy noted.
Half of the 90-minute class period is spent on the curriculum and the other half is spent doing homework students have from other classes.
Mandy has been a counselor in Step One for nine years after being an elementary school teacher and this is Dave’s fourth year teaching Step One. Dave said he was a history and social studies teacher for 15 years and then when teaching social studies for Step One “I fell in love with the program.”
The couple takes their passion a step further in the Strengthening Families program of Kosciusko Cares. Dave and Mandy coordinate Strengthening Families and do family coaching to help families develop better strategies.
“It’s neat to work more deeply with students by working with their families,” Mandy said.
Working together in the Step One program does have its advantages. “Work does not feel like work at all,” Mandy said. “We can do a lot better as a team. We can brainstorm a lot at home. This is really a passion for us.”
“Mandy has always been my best friend and you want to work with your best friend,” Dave said.
Dave attended Butler University and Mandy DePauw University. They started dating while in college.
They are also school advisors for the National Honor Society at WCHS and Dave also coaches the unified track team.
Dave and Mandy are active members of First United Methodist Church in downtown Warsaw and have two sons: Keller, 16, a sophomore at WCHS; and Finn, 14, an eighth grader at Edgewood Middle School in Warsaw.
The Bailey family especially enjoys traveling and likes exploring national parks. “We want to jump in a car and drive somewhere far away,” Dave said.
They live on a hobby farm just south of Warsaw in an old farmhouse that once belonged to Dave’s grandparents. The family also spends a lot of time at Chapman Lake.
“We feel lucky we are able to do what we do,” Mandy said.