Alternative schools increasingly popular, productive

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter



For more information on life in Clark County, visit

For more information on life in Clark County, visit

Students at Hayes Freedom High School in Camas go by the moniker “Renegades.”

But alternative public school options in Clark County are quite in the mainstream, with the impressive Hayes campus a perfect illustration.

The Camas School District opened the snazzy 20,500-square-foot building in September 2010, ending a nomadic existence that saw Hayes housed in four different sites in a six-year span.

The first year in the new school included a graduating class of 52 students. This year the school has 152 students, 52 of whom are seniors.

The eco-friendly facility uses about 78 percent less energy per square foot than a typical high school, and it comes with extra insulation, skylights, solar panels, a rain garden and a radiant floor heating system aimed at making it “net-zero” — able to function solely on energy it produces on its own.

That type of independence personifies students who seek alternative schools. Many are working or prefer independent study and may attend class or check in with counselors only a few times per week.

Besides Hayes Freedom, similar brick-and-mortar campuses include Washougal’s Excelsior High School, Legacy High School in the Evergreen district, Lewis and Clark High School in Vancouver, and Summit View High School in the Battle Ground district.

Steady growth has dispelled the old notion they’re chiefly for students with discipline issues.

Other venues offer an exciting variety of student choices.

Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, with enrollment and eligibility tightly controlled by the Vancouver district, supplies a strong liberal arts curriculum for students in grades six through 12.

Battle Ground’s HomeLink River and CAM Junior-Senior High School have earned high marks for close attention to students, reflected in top-notch state test scores.

The CAM Junior-Senior High School serves more than 400 students. The school evolved out of the Battle Ground district’s home-school program in 1996, growing into a parent-involved junior high and high school with a more conventional feel.

Boasting a rich history and a wealth of impressive results is the Clark County Skills Center in east Vancouver.

The campus was launched in 1983 as a cooperative venture between eight school districts and local business interests to prepare students for the workforce in vocational or trade and technical careers, beyond what any one district could provide.

Students from all corners of Clark County are drawn by culinary arts, automotive and mechanical, medical, legal, business, and cosmetology training, all of which is highly regarded by employers. Most students split their school days between their home high school, or home-schooling, for core subjects and elective courses at the Skills Center.

Given forecast high demand for skilled trades workers to replace a large number of retiring U.S. laborers in coming years, Skills Center curriculum should remain lucrative to students who prefer something other than a traditional college-bound career track.