Newest alternative high school program uses out-of-book experiences

By Gary Franchi
Special to The SUN

Students in the relatively new Alternative High School Diploma Program in Pagosa Springs might tour a museum or library, learn about the value of social media or attend a San Juan Symphony performance and meet a cellist afterward.

Or they might learn about how to apply for jobs, be exposed to proper dining etiquette or participate in internships or job “shadowing.”

Such experiential involvement is a core part of the AHSDP that was formed here in 2011 and continues strong today. A partnership between Pueblo Community College, the Archuleta County Education Center and Archuleta School District 50, the program attempts to retrieve students between the ages of 17 and 20 who have fallen out of the traditional high school path.

It provides both educational and workforce readiness training while preparing students for a college experience. Students participate in community and field trips to local businesses, art galleries and local businesses. They learn job-application skills, hear from speakers in the region and gain a number of other work- and personal-related skills that expand their knowledge of the community and help them become job- and/or college-ready.

The program is a combination of online and classroom instruction. While the Archuleta County Education Center has offered an alternative high school program since 1998 under an agreement with the school district, the AHSDP program has these distinct differences:

• It is offered by PCC staff with all of the resources and experience that the college’s Community Education and Training Division and pre-college programs has gained operating comparable programs in Pueblo and Canon City.

• It provides an individualized approach, which traditionally has helped students with problems achieving academic success.

• It allows students to move easily between the two educational settings in accordance with their needs and to receive their diploma from the school district.

The instructor for the AHSDP is Sheri Figgs, who has more than 30 years of higher education administrative experience in admissions, alumni relations and fund-raising. With a master’s degree in counseling, Figgs is able to spend considerable one-on-one time with each student to help them with the decision-making and time-management skills.

“Sometimes students just need someone who cares, listens and who can coach them to make responsible decisions about their futures,” noted Figgs.

Juanita Fuentes, who oversees PCC’s pre-college programs as the executive director of the CETD, called Figgs an integral key to the program.

“We are very fortunate to have such a passionate person as Sheri instruct for our program,” she said. “Her ability to connect with students and provide them an opportunity to excel is invaluable to the students and the program.”

The partnership with the Education Center and the school district, she added, is a strong one that makes the program’s success possible.

“We work together to find the best solution that will lead to student success,” Fuentes said.

“In addition, our program provides completers with scholarship opportunities to continue their education at an institution of higher learning.”

As director of operations for the Archuleta County Education Center, Julie Loar knows the value of such a program.

“Having such an outstanding alternative high school program available to students is a critical component for the Archuleta County Education Center,” Loar said. “Our mission is to make a full range of lifetime learning available to our community, and our partnership with Southwest Colorado Community College and the school district makes this possible.”

Students interested in earning their high school diploma by enrolling in the AHSDP need to be referred by Pagosa Springs High School. For more information, call the high school at 264-2232, Ext. 229, or contact Figgs at (970) 749-0614.

This story was posted on January 24, 2013.