Alternative high school sets the standard

I am an old war horse, one who might have left the field to graze peacefully, but though I am a retired teacher, I find myself still drawn to the trenches. I miss the give and take of learning. I miss the thrill of involvement with education, and mostly I miss the kids. So, after 35 years in my own classroom, the battlefield beckoned, and I started substitute teaching.

The district I call home is Snohomish, and I have been extremely proud to be a teacher in that wonderful community throughout my entire career. This pride of place was rewarded by my husband’s reaction to the district as he, too, began subbing there. He kept remarking about the genuine politeness of the students, the preparedness and helpfulness of the staff, and the overall sense of commitment inherent on all three high school campuses. As a Snohomish veteran, I was not surprised at his reaction, just proud to hear from an outsider what I already knew — Snohomish is a special place.

The reason for my writing is to celebrate a new awareness that has occurred in my ongoing education. I have always taught English courses, both, core classes and electives and mostly in the traditional setting of a four-year high school. Subbing allows me to travel from campus to campus, and for the last two years I have been frequently requested to act as a guest teacher at AIM, the alternative high school in Snohomish. This has given me a very positive revelation. I knew about AIM High School, of course, even when it was run in the old Snohomish Grange Building, but did not understand its real importance to the community it serves until I started subbing there regularly. I have been more than pleasantly surprised at what I have experienced at the school’s new location on 10th street.

This third high school campus is like Snohomish and Glacier Peak High Schools in every important respect. The kids come first, academic expectations and attendance are rigorously monitored, and the staff is professional, accessible, and knowledgeable. What makes AIM High School unique is its ability to reach students who have already struggled within the confines of traditional high school settings.

The school day at AIM is divided into two sessions, and students attend either the morning or the afternoon block. Like at all high schools there is an offering of core academic classes which must be completed for graduation, and a selection of electives that compliment and enrich these academics including cooking, art, Shakespeare, and child development, among others.

Being a guest teacher in this environment is a fulfilling experience. The principal, June Shirey, sets the tone. She is warm and welcoming, but also firm about adherence to rules and expectations. She seems to be almost prescient concerning student needs, and is present and available for conference throughout the student day. She leads with just the right balance of support and strong expectations for students. The staff is on board with this, making the building a special place to be. Since enrollment is small there is a strong sense of cooperation and support, and therefore, an opportunity for staff to interact with all students on a daily basis.

I am so glad that I have been given the chance to experience Aim firsthand and to observe the positive teaching environment it provides for Snohomish kids. To me, it symbolizes what I have always loved most about teaching in this community: every child matters in Snohomish! Not only does this school district recognize that students have different learning styles and needs, it is willing to invest in a place where every student is important and treated with respect.

Jamie R. Stockton, of Mukilteo, taught school for 35 years (33 of them as an English teacher in the Snohomish School District). She retired from full-time teaching in 2007.

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