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Southwest Community High School’s success measured by success of students

With a faculty of three and a student body of 20, Southwest Community High School is serving a population of Dickinson that may otherwise get left behind.

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At the regular meeting of the Dickinson Public School Board at the Central Administrative Building on Monday, Southwest Community Principal Jay Hepperle gave the alternative high school’s annual report.

“We pride ourselves in the fact that kids can’t fall through the cracks at our school,” Hepperle said. “They have to try to hide in our school to get away from us because of the structure of the building.”

The alternative high school is geared toward students who either fall behind at traditional school, are near the brink of dropping out or have already dropped out and are wanting to complete high school. Because coursework is completed at the students pace, many complete school early.

“We’ve already had two this year that have met graduation requirements,” Hepperle said. “Of those two, one was a dropout from last year that decided that, ‘No, I do want to come back.’”

The three teachers at SWCHS plan curriculum for 47 different courses and supervise several other online classes, Hepperle said.

“I don’t think that there’s more students that we’re able to serve at this point. I don’t know if I can say the same for next year,” Hepperle said.

The SWCHS graduation is one of School Board President Kris Fehr’s favorite events to attend in the spring.

“It’s great to see the success,” Fehr said. “When we started that’s what we wanted, to give kids one more chance to graduate.”

Last year about 75 percent of the student body at SWCHS was comprised of referrals from Dickinson High School. This year it’s about half, with transfer students from out-of-state being attracted to the alternative coursework, Hepperle said.

“We’re getting more students coming into the district now that a traditional high school setting doesn’t fit,” Hepperle said.

Because different states have different credit requirements there have been some issues. Some students enroll and finish with SWCHS, others choose to finish back home, Hepperle said.

Many of the students at SWCHS are either parents themselves or are helping take care of small children. The school has teamed up with the West Dakota Parent and Family Resource Center to provide weekly parenting classes.

“These students were spending the majority of their time worrying about or trying to care for those children,” Hepperle said.

Because of the personalized nature of the program, the school’s enrollment is capped at 20, Hepperle said. There are 19 students currently taking courses and there has not been a waiting list this year.

“I’m very proud to say that we have not failed a student yet,” Hepperle said. “Because we’re able to give one-on-one instruction to them when they need it everyday when they need it.”

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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