As Collin Rogers-Peckham moved from one school to the next in the Douglas County School District, he continually fell behind in his education. Several bouts of strep throat, he thinks spurred on by stress and anxiety, resulted in a growing number of school absences.
The more days he missed, the more his grades slipped. Finally, he decided to apply for Eagle Academy High School in Lone Tree, the district's only night school, where there are smaller class sizes and a heightened focus on the individual student.
“I was getting into a really dark pit in (traditional) public schools,” he said. “Feeling like I wouldn't accomplish something.”
At Eagle, the 18-year-old from Highlands Ranch noticed an immediate difference. He could go to the counselor and be transparent about his struggles. He learned more about the paths students can take after high school. He felt a personal connection with teachers.
On Jan. 17, Rogers-Peckham graduated from Eagle with his high school diploma. The alternative school helped him make a life plan, he said, and feel excited for his future.
Eagle's schedule allows students to pursue their education while fulfilling responsibilities outside of school, like working part-time, or just getting back on track after falling behind.
“Our philosophy is we meet kids where they're at when they walk in the door,” Principal Jeff Broeker said.
Eagle works by quarters. It receives new students every nine weeks and graduates seniors twice a year.
The school emphasizes mental health support, employing four mental health professionals who work with the 150 students.
Students usually qualify in at least one at-risk category defined by the state, like truancy or insufficient credits needed to graduate, Broeker said. Some have learning disabilities or special needs.
Students apply to Eagle and interview with the principal. Broeker always has a waitlist, and not everyone is accepted. Class sizes are small, which he believes ensures teachers connect with students. He thinks of the school as a “big extended family.”
“It's very hard to fall between the cracks here, but that's a good thing, because sometimes kids don't ask for support. They're hoping you see they need support,” Broeker said.
Hadley Pletscher agreed. The 18-year-old applied to Eagle after falling behind at Chaparral High School her sophomore year.
The teen moved to Colorado following her freshman year of high school in Swartz Creek, Michigan, roughly 10 miles from the water-troubled Flint. In Michigan, she felt surrounded by violence.
She moved to Colorado to start fresh, but had trouble leaving the negativity she experienced in Michigan behind.
“I didn't do well at Chaparral because I started to skip classes. I didn't turn in my homework, and then from there I was afraid to try again and get up on my feet, because I didn't think that was possible,” Pletscher said.
She didn't know if she would graduate high school, but at Eagle learned it's up to her to use the tools she's given in life, she said.
“I was able to re-evaluate who Hadley is and who I want to be and that I do have all of the strength in me,” she said. “I am capable of graduating with a high school diploma and so much more, because that's just the beginning”
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