Woodland Public Schools’ TEAM High School offers an alternative path for students to achieve success in their K-12 education by offering flexible lesson schedules, self-directed lesson plans and personalized teaching in a focused learning environment.
Students who enroll at TEAM range from those who have full-time jobs to those looking for a more flexible high school experience. “TEAM High School exists to help students who need an alternative to the traditional classroom model of high school education,” explained Jillian Domingo, TEAM High School’s English and Social Studies teacher. “Many of our students work, have different learning needs or have busy home lives which necessitate the flexible schedule TEAM offers.”
The staff of TEAM constantly works to change what people think of when they think of alternative high schools. “Many people hear ‘alternative school’ and think it’s a place for ‘troubled’ kids and we want to change that,” said Elizabeth Vallaire, Math and Science Teacher for TEAM. “Although we do accept students from a variety of different backgrounds, we also serve students who want to graduate early; students who struggle socially with the myriad of issues at traditional high schools; students who work full-time and can’t dedicate eight hours a day to the classroom; students who are homeless and don’t have the support they need; and a large population of students who desire more independence in their learning than a traditional high school can offer.”
At this year’s Washington Association for Learning Alternatives (WALA) conference, the organization’s executive director singled out Woodland’s TEAM High School as the model school in Washington for site-based alternative schools. “Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) schools can sometimes have a reputation for being a place where students can slack off, but that couldn’t be farther than the truth for TEAM,” said Vallaire. “Our school is held to statewide alternative education standards and we undergo regular audits to ensure these standards are being met; we have policies in place to ensure students attend all of their classes each week as well as rules to minimize cheating and enhance respect, just as you would find in any traditional high school.”
The dedicated TEAM High School classroom provides students with the resources they need in a less-formal, non-traditional classroom environment.
Woodland Public Schools bases TEAM out of a dedicated portable building featuring a full computer lab and other classroom resources for students. “The setting is often less intimidating for students; students call teachers by their first names and teachers dress down more than they would in a traditional high school setting to make the environment less formal and intimidating,” said Domingo. “TEAM empowers students to take control of their own learning, and, with hard work, students can make up missing credits or even graduate early.”
TEAM’s students use a computer-based curriculum called Apex Learning to select classes from a full range of core academic subjects and electives. Each student completes a minimum of six credits per year, working on two classes during each six-week marking period. Students choose one of five two-hour daily sessions to attend while also completing an additional 22 hours of study each week. “Students have the flexibility to work on the classes they want to at the times they want to with more one-on-one time with their teachers than a typical classroom can support,” said Vallaire. “By attending TEAM, students who need extra leeway receive the freedom they require to succeed, even if it takes an extra year to graduate, while others can finish an entire year of credits in a single month – our program is completely individualized to each student’s needs making TEAM a place where practically any student can be successful.”
TEAM partners with local community organizations to offer more learning opportunities for students including a recent partnership with the Woodland Public Library which allowed students to take home free books. “Several new students enrolled this year who love reading and were so excited to have free books they could take home and keep,” said Vallaire. “I placed donation boxes in all of our other schools, asking employees to donate books, and, now, TEAM High School has a small library of nearly 100 books students can borrow or keep.”
TEAM’s alternative environment provides a unique teaching experience for teachers, too. “I love being able to get to know my students and their interests in a more in-depth way than I would in a traditional learning environment,” said Domingo. “My greatest moment is watching my students receive their diplomas during graduation – these are students who could have dropped out of school but chose instead to persevere which makes that moment of recognition for their accomplishment so much more special.”
Vallaire agrees with her colleague about the small class sizes and personalized attention she’s able to provide her students. “Working at TEAM has been the most rewarding teaching position I’ve ever had,” she said. “I get to know my students incredibly well; we have inside jokes, secret handshakes, traditions, and, most importantly, the ability to speak honestly and openly with each other.”
Graduation is the top priority for students with TEAM staff preparing "Grad Maps" to help students finish all of the requirements they need to receive their diplomas.
Graduation remains the top priority for both students and staff. “We focus intensely on helping our seniors complete their requirements – even those who came to us with just freshman credits,” said Vallaire. “Along with Mary Burnett, our Program Specialist who is a true jack-of-all-trades, we create planners we call ‘Grad Maps’ for each student to reach their current and future enrollment goals which include specific weekly goals in order for students to finish all their requirements in time for graduation.”
TEAM High School’s hard work will pay off this Wednesday, June 13, during this year’s commencement ceremony. “Our graduating class of 2018 will be one of the largest in the history of TEAM High School and we love spotlighting each graduate, talking about their individual strengths and accomplishments during the ceremony itself which makes for an even more meaningful moment when graduates receive their diplomas in front of their friends and family,” said Vallaire. “At TEAM, we get the ability to bring our own personal strengths and create a learning environment that is dynamic, respectful and just plain fun.”
Student Spotlight: Destinee Navarro, Class of 2018
Destinee Navarro, seen here interviewing with The Columbian's Adam Littman, will graduate this year and plans to earn a business degree so she can open her own bakery.
Destinee Navarro, 19, will graduate from TEAM High School this Wednesday as a member of the Class of 2018 after dedicating herself to her studies. She elected to attend TEAM after relocating to Woodland with her family from Arizona. “I needed this kind of transition program because Woodland High School was so much bigger than where I’m from,” she explained. “In addition, I’m the oldest of five children so I need to do whatever I can to help my mom take care of my siblings.”
In addition to finishing her studies at TEAM, Destinee works at Papa Murphy’s Take-and-Bake Pizza in Woodland while also taking classes at the Northwest Skills Academy in Vancouver where she discovered a love of the culinary arts. “I learned a lot about cooking from my grandmother who was a head cook at a restaurant, and discovered how much I love cooking, particularly baking, after I took classes at the Skills Academy,” she said. “Now, I’m planning to get my baking certificate, go to college to earn a business degree and, one day, open and run my own bakery.”
Destinee’s goal of opening her own bakery stems from her self-guided nature and the calming qualities she finds in making bread. “I want to be able to run my own show by running my own bakery, possibly focusing on different kinds of bread,” she said. “I love kneading bread – it’s so therapeutic to knead it with my hands, and I also like creating the more complicated breads which use interwoven braided dough to look so beautiful when baked.”
TEAM’s flexible schedule gave Destinee the freedom she needed to finish her studies at her own pace at the times she prefers to study. “I take the morning session at the Skills Center so I’m able to work and still finish my studies at TEAM, too,” she said. “I’ve always been used to self-guided learning but having the dedicated teaching staff and other support made TEAM the perfect fit for my learning style.”
TEAM’s staff made the biggest difference for
Destinee. “Students can go to them for whatever they need, even if it’s just
for help with something emotional we’re going through at home,” she said. “I
love the teachers at TEAM – I’m actually going to miss them the most after I
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