Program opens doors for dropouts

Open Doors helps students earn their diploma or GED

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter

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There’s a handwritten sign posted on a door at the Lieser Campus in Vancouver.

“Whatever your past has been, your future is spotless,” it reads.

That sign greets students on their way into Vancouver Public Schools’ Open Doors Reengagement Program, an alternative path to graduation or GED completion for students who have dropped out of high school and have few class credits. Educational Service District 112 also offers Open Doors classes for students who live within the boundaries of any Clark County school district.

Sisters Chelseanne and Richland LaRue, both of whom are enrolled in the program, are among the students working their way toward that spotless future. Until recently, the pair was homeless, camping with their mother in her car across the county and attending four or five different high schools in two years.

School became too much, 18-year-old Chelseanne said. There was no guarantee they’d have a good night’s rest, clean clothes, get their homework done. Both dropped out of high school about two years ago.

“We didn’t have a stable home,” she said. “After sophomore year, we decided trying to make it every day was just too much.”

The LaRue sisters’ story is not unique in Open Doors. Teacher Julia Morrison said for most students in the program, life got in the way of school — they faced poverty, moved from school to school, had to provide child care for their younger siblings or had children of their own.

The program is designed to help students overcome those challenges, whatever they may be, while pursuing a diploma, working on practical skills and making school a more positive experience.

“We have to address that first before we can turn it around,” Morrison said.

‘Second chance’

Open Doors classes include a combination of online classes and life-skills learning. Students complete most of their coursework online, and are required to come into class once a week for at least two hours.

In addition to their class work, students can use that time to work on their r?sum?s, apply for jobs, tour colleges, cook meals and open bank accounts. Cut-out paper paw prints, animals and medals posted to the wall celebrate those achievements.

“Renewed driver’s permit.”

“Professional appearance.”

“Food handler’s permit.”

School officials said the program is tailored to suit the needs of individual students. Though graduation is always the goal, Morrison said, that isn’t possible for all students. For those who won’t graduate before they turn 21 — at which point students can no longer access public school — the class helps them develop a transition plan so they can either pursue their adult diploma, GED or job after graduating.

Lieser Campus Principal Deanna Hogan said the class also ensures students have access to resources like the school’s Family-Community Resource Center, allowing them to get food, supplies and other resources they may need. That helps keep students academically and personally committed to school.

“Rather than having these students out (of school), let’s keep them engaged, keep them learning,” Hogan said.

The LaRue sisters expect to graduate in about two years. They have a home now in Hazel Dell with friends, and are teacher’s assistants for Morrison in addition to students. Both work, as well.

Richland, 19, hopes to pursue a career in the medical field, while Chelseanne plans to become a diesel mechanic or a welder.

Both say working toward their high school diploma has made all the difference in their lives.

“It’s that second chance you didn’t think you would have,” Chelseanne said.