An alternative high school for students trying to get a diploma may seem like a last resort.
But for Jonathon Simmons, 19, Omaha Street School represented hope and a fresh start. It also served as a gateway to study business management at Metropolitan Community College. The college freshmen paid a visit to the high school over summer break to reflect on his journey, teachers and accomplishments.
“As soon as I came here, I had this feeling in my body,” he says while sitting in former-teacher Wes Jensen’s homeroom. “It was just like, ‘I want to go here.’ I had this ball of joy – basically, it wasn't like me sitting here sad all the time. I felt like I was happy again.”
In January 2015, Simmons, a junior at the time, enrolled at street school. The semester before, he was at a traditional school and barely going to class.
It was too crowded, he says, and made him feel uncomfortable which increased his anxiety and compelled him to stay home.
But his mother, along with a speech teacher, knew skipping school was not an option. The teacher introduced Simmons to Charles Wilson, director of student services at street school.
“He had a little bit of a smile on his face after I just got a chance to really talk about the street school and what we were about. And it was great meeting his mom there because she was very concern about his education,” Wilson says.
Most of our students come with some sort of anxiety, depression – many have trouble with getting along with other students, says Linda Reimer, director of development and marketing at the school.
A majority of students come from traditional high schools as well.
The non-profit alternative school for at-risk youth tailors the curriculum to each student and features smaller classrooms with a student-teacher ratio of eight to one.
The school operates on two principles: faith and “tabula rasa” which means “clean slate” in Latin
“They've been told, ‘[You’re] never going to amount to anything. You're always in trouble. Oh no, you again,’” says Reimer. “So, when they walk into school, we say on the very first day, they walk into street school, we give them a clean slate.”
According to Reimer and Jensen, the students eventually start to believe in themselves.
“Once they begin to trust us and they begin to see that this is a place where they can grow, where they can be successful, that's when things start clicking and you see the progression,” Jensen says.
Street school saved Simmons, the student says, and he graduated in December 2015.
The college freshmen went from being a semester behind during his junior year to graduating from high school a semester ahead in his senior year.
“If I would have continued on that route, I would have felt like I would have dropped out of high school and not go on the path that I'm going on now,” Simmons says. “I would be trying to find a job. Or if not, if I actually thought about it, try to get my GED.
In college, he is pursuing his dream job.
“I would love to own my own skate shop because I have my own logo and I want do my own thing.”
To learn more about Omaha Street School, click here.