The alternative high school in Hartland is in its 30th year of serving the needs of non-traditional students. LEGACY principal Kirk Evenson attributes the success of the program to remaining true to what makes the school special.
“It’s a small, caring, intimate environment,” Evenson said, "where the kids know they are connected to an adult, and the adult does care about them. They feel supported.”
Starting off with a small “one-room” schoolhouse mentality, the school was originally in the 51 building in the village of Hartland, with approximately 30 students. The school is now housed in the Hartland Educational Support Service Center and has grown to one of the best alternative programs in the state, with a graduation rate of 85 percent, according to Evenson.
This year, there are 120 students enrolled in the school’s day program, some coming from Hartland High School and others choosing LEGACY in the School of Choice program.
Evenson says the focus of his staff is to support the students not only academically, but in their outside lives as well, by incorporating programs like support groups, a Dale Carnegie program and Project Success, which the students attend throughout their school day.
Evenson says the reputation of the school throughout the county and among other school administrators is a positive one and says that the general stereotype that "bad kids" are enrolled at LEGACY does not fit with the reality.
“I don’t know what keeps that alive because if you spend any time here, you’ll realize they’re really nice kids,” he said. “There are 120 students in this building today for 120 reasons. They each have a 'something' in their life that has caused a failure."
Those reasons, Evenson said, may include deaths in the family, substance abuse issues, theirs or a family member's, teen pregnancy or a “crack” in the family structure.
Through a non-traditional, structured learning environment, Evenson says, LEGACY works with each student, with the goal of finding success for each student.
“The main focus for me and my staff is, how can we help them enjoy doing school again,” Evenson said. “We believe we can and that’s our focus.”
Building Trust and Creating a Positive Atmosphere
Building trust is a priority, according to Evenson, as well as creating a positive learning environment with small groups of six, 20-student teams with “good chemistry” that will promote a “safe, warm and caring environment.”
For Thomas Smith, 18, a returning student, LEGACY provides options with a flexible schedule, convenient location and supportive staff who are helping him reach his educational goals.
“There’s some fit for everybody,” Smith said. “There’s some kids who can go to a regular high school and not learn anything, and there’s some kids who come here and just flourish cause they get everything that they need.”
The comfortable and “family-oriented” environment, where everyone “just seems to care”, is what Smith and classmate Jacqueline Noga say is one of the most important elements of their school.
“When I first came here, I was, like, why am I here,” Noga said. “But they’re helping me more than other schools would. They’re getting me to go farther.”
There is currently a waiting list for LEGACY and, although the program has the potential to keep growing, Evenson says he chooses to keep the program small to offer more indvidual support. He remembers the advice he received from superintendent Janet Sifferman after taking the position in 2005.
"She said, don't grow too fast," Evenson said. "Remember what keeps you special."
In November, the school is planning to host its first reunion, with past students invited to attend the annual Thanksgiving dinner. For more information about the reunion or the LEGACY program, call 810-626-2104.