Hope in the Alternative
Writer / Tonja Talley
Photographer / Forrest Mellott
“My heart agonized over the students who dropped out of school during my 20-year tenure as a public school principal. I wanted an avenue to walk alongside these struggling students, to talk about life or to pray with them. The avenue I desired came in an alternative school called The Crossing,” said Stan Good, Director of New School Development for The Crossing.
Created to support public schools, The Crossing has helped to educate and transform the lives of struggling students since 2003. According to Stan, The Crossing Education Center’s mission is to empower students to become contributing members of their communities through academic teaching, job training and faith-based mentoring.
In August, The Crossing Education Center announced the opening of their 18th campus—The Crossing of Johnson County (COJC). A state-accredited faith-based alternative school, COJC will partner with Greenwood and Clark Pleasant School Corporations to come alongside 30-50 struggling Johnson County students, not currently enrolled, to help them earn their high school diploma.
The Crossing believes that in academics, as in life, a student’s mind and heart both have to be stretched to learn. “This is a unique educational experience focusing on the whole person,” said Greenwood volunteer Erick Russell. “The ‘head’ part is the academics, which utilizes individualized curricula for the students to excel at their own pace. The ‘heart’ portion of The Crossing’s focus is seen through the other two objectives—job training and faith-based mentoring. The heart portion of the vision is what sets The Crossing apart and is contributing to the success of the program across the state.”
The goal for any school is to see their students receive a diploma. The Crossing is no exception. “But our students come into the school with tremendous burdens,” said Stan, sadly. “The streets are what our students battle. In addition, it threatens their well-being. These kids don’t come to us just wanting an education; these kids are looking for hope.”
Rachel Miller, the COJC campus administrator, agrees. “When we can eliminate as many barriers as possible, The Crossing students thrive,” she says. “For example, with a lower than average student-teacher ratio, I enjoy building a line of communication and trust with each of my students. They know school is not going to be easy, and we will not enable them. We are, however, available when their thought process calls for further assistance. It is wonderful to hear a student shout out, ‘I got an 80 percent on my quiz; I have never done that well in my life!’ Their gleaming faces tell it all.”
Besides the low student-teacher ratio of 6:1, other tools are used to affect the progress of a student. Weekly goals set by the student allow for personal growth. Many studies have shown specific and attainable goals can spark a higher level of performance. As students make new discoveries, their goals are modified. To achieve these goals, students work on one subject at a time at their own pace through an online program, allowing them to do assignments, essays, quizzes and tests. In addition to setting their own goals, The Crossing realizes many of their students are the breadwinners for their families. Consequently, The Crossing gives them the flexibility to attend school in either the morning or the afternoon.
As time goes by, the teacher and the students become a close-knit group, bonding like family, ever guiding and encouraging. “A lot of our students have had unhealthy or unfortunate situations thrust upon them, and they are looking for people who are real with them, people who are transparent,” said Stan. “Believing in our focus that we grow not with just the mind, but with the heart and the mind, each campus offers ‘Family Time.’”
The daily half-hour mentoring time allows the students and staff to talk about life. It may consist of talking through what friendship looks like, giving empathy to a student whose grandmother is ill or looking at Jesus’ advice in the Bible about living on earth.
“The Crossing is not a Christian school, and ‘Family Time’ is not a Bible study, but each teacher can and will use the Bible as reference for difficult life questions,” Stan commented. “All students sign an agreement stating if they feel uncomfortable with any type of discussion, they have the freedom to quietly leave the room and return to their studies.”
“I became a volunteer with The Crossing after witnessing Family Time,” board member Kevin Good said. “The group talked about the difference between an encouraging word and empowerment. Using the Bible as their reference, the students found that the word ‘encouragement’ means to give a compliment to your neighbor, but “empowerment” means to encourage another while walking alongside them. Empowerment takes a little more effort by the friend, but the reward strengthens his or her heart and mind for life.”
Job & Leadership Training
The Crossing instills positive job and leadership skills by providing focused leadership training and leadership opportunities. Using Sean Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, the small groups will look at how a habit and a paradigm (point of view) can affect their heart and mind, presenting a positive reaction or a heavy burden. To fully appreciate this new understanding, students are placed in community service projects to apply these new practices.
“We encourage our students to pour back into the community and The Crossing by becoming good leaders and entrepreneurs,” said leadership coordinator Jerad Harnish. “Ultimately showing perspective employers what an asset our students can bring to their businesses.”
Through molding each student’s heart and mind with love and friendship, the students of COJC will have life with hope.