Gateway Academy in Graves County recently celebrated the milestone of its 500th student to graduate. Established in 2002, Gateway is one of the region’s alternative high schools, along with Star Academy in Marshall County and Beacon Central High in Daviess County.
Gateway Academy’s commencement ceremony earlier this month unfolded just as you’d expect any other high school graduation. “Pomp and Circumstance” was played, and a line of mortarboard-wearing students crossed the Graves County Schools' Performing Arts Center stage and received a diploma, as their loved ones cheered and snapped pictures. But each student in the graduating class has a unique reason for attending Gateway, rather than a traditional high school.
“There are so many, and they’re so individual,” Gateway Principal Donna Crouch said. “It could be that there are discipline issues, they could have social anxiety issues, they could have attendance issues. They could be mothers to be, or fathers to be. They have to take care of their family, so they may have a full time job. Or they just may be behind in course work. So any of those circumstances could bring them to Gateway.”
Gateway began in 2002, after the Graves County Board of Education saw that too many students were dropping out. Superintendent Kennith "Pete" Galloway, set to retire at the end of this month, said funding was hard to come by in the beginning, with little help coming from the state. But Galloway and others, including then-Superintendent Brady Link and Director of Pupil Personnel Jennifer Smith, talked the school board into allowing them to at least give it a try.
“We’ve always been able to sustain the cost of it,” Galloway said. "It’s an expensive program. But these are kids that would not make it in a traditional high school setting. Someone asked me today at lunch, ‘How many of those kids, how many of those 514 kids would have graduated if it hadn’t been for this program?’ I truly believe you could count them on one hand.”
The Kentucky Department of Education doesn’t have figures on just how many students graduate from programs like Gateway’s every year. But they’ve recently approved new regulations that will allow for more oversight and consistency among Kentucky’s nearly 200 programs. Director of the Division of Student Success Toyah Robey said this new oversight will be adopted in fall 2013.
“Sometimes kids are sent to an alternative program and they stay there all four years," Robey said. "And we just want to make sure while kids are in alternative programs that they are being successful. And that’s part of ensuring that quality programs align to the content standards and that they are graduating college-career ready.”
Kentuckians can even get their diplomas in a completely virtual setting now. The Barren Academy of Virtual and Expanded Learning, or BAVEL, had over 95 students enrolled as of 2011, representing 18 Kentucky school districts. Students may enroll in BAVEL to take core courses, Advanced Placement courses, dual credit courses, study foreign languages, accelerate their learning or to make up credits.
Whether in an online or traditional classroom setting, these institutions are providing students who may have otherwise slipped through the cracks with a chance at a quality education. Superintendent Galloway reflected on an experience with one such student.
“I recall running into a young man at Walmart one time and he just came up to me and said ‘Mr. Galloway, I want to tell you, if it hadn’t been for Gateway, I’d probably be in the correctional system right now’,” Galloway said. “He said ‘I can’t tell you thank you enough.’ Well, it wasn’t Pete Galloway he was thanking. He was thanking all of those that have a small piece in putting this program together.”