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Open Doors helps students who have dropped out


February 7, 2018 | View PDF

Christopher Andersson

Weston High School teacher and Open Doors case manager Renee McArt, left, and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen look at some of the details of the Arlington School District's new Open Doors program on Jan. 31.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen came to the Arlington School District to see their recently started Open Doors program which is meant to re-engage local students who have dropped out.

The congressman visited the local district on Jan. 31 and district officials talked about the progress of the program.

This is the first year that the district has offered the program.

It's run at Weston High School and is meant to help kids who are younger than 21 years old who had dropped out but now want to start their education again.

"We knew there was a need in the community and had a number of students whose needs were not being met," said Renee McArt, case manager for the program and a teacher.

"We wanted to try and pull those kids back into school and provide them with an opportunity to finish their diploma or get their GED, or get career placement," she said.

Oftentimes the students have other barriers preventing them from a more traditional educational path.

"We are serving a wide variety of kids who would not otherwise be able to finish their education," said McArt, including kids who are working multiple jobs, who have become stay-at-home mothers or who are partially or fully homeless.

"No two students who walk in this door are the same," said McArt. "They come with a variety of different issues and needs."

Kathy Ehman, Arlington School District assistant superintendent, said the program is another effort to bring equity to local schools.

"It's just another aspect of catching different populations of kids and making sure they're getting what they need and how they need it," she said.

Superintendent Chrys Sweeting has experience with the program as it was offered at her former district.

"It was something that I wanted to bring here," she said.

The Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction began the program years ago, said Sweeting, but it's taken a while to catch on.

"When it first started people didn't really understand what it was," she said.

When Arlington's program began this September they only had one student. Now they have 33 enrolled students.

"I'm really excited by what I'm seeing," said McArt. "The positivity of the experience they feel they're getting is really encouraging."

Kids do not have to be former Arlington School District students to be a part of the program.

"We've actually reached out to two districts in particular, the Darrington School District and the Lakewood School District," said McArt.

"A lot of their students that are over the age of 18 ... we've urged them to send those folks our way," she sad.

The program will also have its first graduate in a couple of weeks.

"For a variety of reasons she was unable to pass the state testing," said McArt.

They've gained a state waiver that is allowed through workforce credits though. "We were able to get her diploma and she is graduating in about two weeks," said McArt.

Workforce Snohomish County helped the student gain the workforce credits by providing her a volunteer opportunity at the Stillaguamish Senior Center, mainly consisting of office work.

"It was her first ever job and she is so excited. She is continuing with it and now she wants to go to community college and get a certificate and become an office manager," said McArt.

Workforce Snohomish County partners with the school district for a program and a liaison comes out once a week to help students and provide courses like resume writing.

"The really important part is he finds students volunteer positions and paid internships, and helps with searching for work," said McArt.

"We really wanted wrap-around services that would re-engage them," said Will Nelson, Weston High School principal.

"We're helping them be a productive part of society," he said.

The state will only fund students for the program if they are younger than 21.

"So let's say they come to us when they are 20, well there may not be enough time to get the credits to graduate or to get the GED, so we just build as much as we can and send them forward," said Sweeting.

Workforce Snohomish County can help those younger than 24, so part of the plan is for them to be able to pick up the work after the Open Doors program is no longer able.

The program is for any local students under 21 years of age.

Those who want more information can call Renee McArt at 360-618-6336.


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