FAHS earns recognition

Fairview Alternative High School recently won Program Of the Year honors from the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs. Front row left to right: teachers Martha Mason-Miller, Laura Tucci, Maureen Kieger, Katie Johnson. Middle row left to right: Laura Freer, principal, and teachers Jeff Babineau, Maureen Foreman, Stephanie Halstensgard. Back row left to right: teachers Bob Goepel, Mark Jansen, and Sam Northey. (submitted photo)

The news that Fairview Alternative High School (FAHS) earned Program of the Year honors at the Feb. 14 Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs (MAAP) in Rochester was greeted by staff and students alike with great enthusiasm.

“There was a lot of excitement at the district level and in our building,” Laura Freer, FAHS’ principal said.

“We’re so proud of our staff and students,” Roseville Area Schools Superintendent John Thein said. “FAHS has been an absolute gift to our community and our school system.”

Freer explained the award is given to the school that best serves as a model for other alternative schools.

FAHS has grown rapidly since it opened in 2007 with an enrollment of just 38 students. Today, Freer said, the school has more than 140 students who come from a richly diverse set of backgrounds.

The school is a mix of students who need a different kind of high school experience than the traditional model offers and students who are English-language learners. Freer explained the vast majority of English-language learners at FAHS are refugees and in many cases no English is spoken in the home.

Beyond the natural language barrier, Freer noted many of the school’s English-language learners spent time in refugee camps with little or no formal schooling. Accordingly, there’s an adjustment period for these students when they first arrive at an American school.

“They come with their own stories,” Freer added.

As for the students who simply need a different kind of school environment to thrive, Freer explained, there are a number of reasons why.

Some students have had health concerns of their own or have had to miss large chunks of school to take care of a family member. In other cases, students are overly shy, or for any number of other reasons, just have a difficult time adjusting to Roseville Area High School.

“Some of our students just haven’t found their niche yet,” Freer said.

Freer also noted many students mature late.

“Some of our students didn’t take ninth and tenth grade seriously and now they’re behind on their credits and realize they might not graduate so they come to us,” she said.

“We also have parents here,” Freer said, adding students with children of their own often rely on alternative scheduling to finish their educations.

While English-language learners and alternative students don’t always take classes together, because of different learning paces, Freer noted the students spend time together in the hallways between classes and during other moments of the day.

The fact FAHS is one of only a small handful of alternative schools in the Metro area is one of the things Freer thinks makes it so special.

“It takes a lot of work and commitment,” she said. “But it’s very rewarding.”

Because of its small enrollment and class sizes, FAHS teachers have an opportunity to get to know their students well, crafting relationships that ultimately benefit the learning process.
“We get to know our students,” Freer noted.

FAHS also puts an emphasis on work skills, Freer said, adding it’s clearly something that excites a numbers of the school’s students.

“We have a work program that prepares them with work skills,” she added.

The challenge for FAHS staff is to prepare students for a number of different futures. Freer said while staff would love for all its graduates to go to college, that simply isn’t realistic. Some want to enter the work world right away while others join the military. Freer added some FAHS students work for a year or two before they enroll in college.

“We have to prepare them for whatever they want to do,” Freer said.

Freer said she was thrilled with the school’s award because it reminds staff how well they’re doing.

“Our teachers are humble, they don’t pat themselves on the back,” Freer said. “But they deserve this.”

George Fairbanks can be reached at gfairbanks@lillienews.com.

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