At some point each school day, more than 40 students from Vermillion High School leave the campus to attend classes in a strip mall.
That�s because for more than a year, that building � located near the intersection of Cherry and Plum streets � has been home to the Southeast High Alternative School.
Alternative School Director Terri Trumm said that for its attendees, the school offers a better learning environment for students who could be having trouble in a certain subject.
�For a lot of the kids, it�s a little bit more laid-back,� Trumm said. �Any time you throw 300-some kids into a mix, there�s going to be some issues. This is a smaller environment, a more close-knit group.
�We joke because sometimes we feel like we�re counselors more than we�re teachers. We hear some things we don�t always want to hear,� she said. �But for most of our kids, this is a comfort zone. And that�s one of the philosophies behind alternative schools, is to have them separate from the campus.�
The school itself has been in operation since the late 1990s, originally as part of Southeast Job Link in Yankton. The facility contracted with various area schools and received grant money through the Department of Labor.
That changed in the summer of 2009.
�There were some funding shifts out in Pierre � money that had been with the Department of Labor was dumped over with the Department of Education. Grant money didn�t come through that year,� Trumm said. �So we had to go to all of our schools and say, �We�re going to need more of a contribution out of you if you want to continue funding the alternative school as it is.�
As a result, Vermillion decided to open its own alternative school, which it did that same summer. The school continues to be fully funded through the Vermillion School District.
Along with Trumm, the school has full-time educational assistant Rachel Sorensen and part-time math teacher Lyndy Williams.
�We have a really good student to teacher ratio out here,� Trumm said. �We�re talking 45 students. A one-to-20 ratio is pretty darn good, and of course they�re not here all day.�
Students come to the alternative school for a variety of reasons, which Trumm said she learned shortly after she was hired in 2004.
�Honestly, I really thought, �these are the naughty kids. These are the kids that can�t make it without this extra support.� But there are as many reasons for faltering and failing a class as there are kids out there. And I quickly realized that.�
For many of the students, the alternative school presents an opportunity for credit recovery, said Vermillion High School principal Curt Cameron.
�Kids can make poor choices during their freshman and sophomore years, and they�re able to come out here and regain those credits, and I think that�s huge,� he said.
Some students attend the school as the result of an illness that kept them out of school for an extended period of time, while others attend because they came to the district mid-semester.
�You can�t really recover a class at that point, and so they�ll be here for the rest of the semester on whatever courses they can finish up,� Trumm said.
Few of the students attend the alternative school all day � most of them attend only for one period.
Trumm works with teachers at the high school to outline what the students will be learning.
�I work closely with the teachers and follow curriculum maps online to create curriculum that will match what�s going on in the classroom for that semester,� she said. �I don�t have a deadline. I always tell my kids, �The most important classes you�re taking right now are at the high school, because you have a deadline there.�
�Here, you�ll get three semesters, basically, to finish a class,� she explained. �So if you enroll with me in the summer and you don�t finish a class that you started with me in the summer, you have until the next summer to finish it.�
This laid-back approach is beneficial to many of the students, Sorensen said.
�When I was in high school, it would have been great to work at my own pace and ask for help only when I needed it. I know (the students) appreciate that, and certainly don�t always want help,� she said. �I think it�s a comfort that any time they have a question, we can just run right over. That can�t happen in a normal classroom environment.�
Students are also given the choice of how they want to complete the classes. After the school moved to Vermillion, the school began to utilize an online educational program called Odysseyware.
The students do have a choice whether they want to use the online program, or continue to work with the traditional pencil and paper.
�Some kids take to it like ducks to water. Others don�t care for it,� Trumm said.
The majority of the classes the alternative school offers fall under English and the social sciences.
�We do not do science up here,� Trumm said. �We don�t have the environment to be able to do lab facility, so if the kids falter in a science course, they�re going to have to retake that at the high school. But pretty much every other course we can cover out here.�
The school also offers a GED prep program for students ages 16 to 18.
The main purpose of the school is to provide the extra help to the students who need it, Trumm said.
�Some kids come out here after their freshman year at high school because they�ve faltered, and I see them that one summer and I never see them again. The whole goal is we want to keep them on track so they can graduate with their class,� she said.
�It�s an advantage to the students, because a lot of kids would not graduate without this program,� Cameron added.
Trumm said that during a recent school board meeting, a figure was presented that said 23 percent of last year�s graduating class had at some point taken advantage of the alternative school during their four-year high school career.
�To me, that�s huge,� she said. �I�m really glad that we�re here to be able to help them.�