By Lauren Slagter Kokomo Tribune
After just a couple of weeks at the Crossing, Keenan McClerkin is confident that’s where he will attend until he graduates.
McClerkin, 16, found out about the alternative, faith-based school at his church, where one of the school’s staff members also attends. He is one of an increasing number of students who are finding the Crossing best meets their needs.
“I was hearing good things about the staff and that people get a lot of work done there,” McClerkin said. “They’re willing to talk to me, not just about school but personal stuff. I love this school.”
The Crossing Education Center in Kokomo opened for the 2010-11 school year and is located at 1234 N. Courtland Ave., in the former Columbian Elementary School. The school employs four teachers after adding a position for this school year to accommodate growing enrollment.
Currently, 64 students attend the Crossing in Kokomo, with most of the population between the ages of 15 and 19, although some are older. The student population is transient, so the Crossing tracks enrollment by counting the number of students it serves each semester, though those students may not attend for the whole year or even an entire semester.
The school served 64 students in the first semester of the 2013-14 school year and 83 in the second semester. That’s a significant increase from the 2012-13 school year, when the Crossing’s Kokomo campus served 43 students the first semester and 41 in the second semester. The Crossing has 16 campuses across the state.
“We get kids three ways,” said James Jakus, principal of the Crossing in Kokomo. “The first is public schools sending us students. The second way is we pick kids up off the street. The third way is having kids off the street tell their friends.”
Each of those avenues for recruiting students has contributed to the growing enrollment. Jakus said more students are coming to the Crossing because the alternative school is working closely with area public schools. It’s becoming more known in the community as a whole and a variety of partners – plus the board of directors – are continuing to support unique programming at the school.
“Before we were basically an unknown entity who perhaps was seen as a bad sign in the community,” Jakus said. “I believe now we’re a relevant option.
“Our No. 1 reason is we’ve improved relationships with our sending schools. We are a tool to them,” Jakus continued. “A lot of parents want their kids to come here because the campus is run by people who have Biblical values. Even if the parents don’t have Biblical values, they like that the teachers do.”
Students typically come to the Crossing if they were struggling at another school, whether with academics, behavioral issues or getting bullied. Whatever reason students choose the Crossing, the school tries to accommodate their unique needs as they work toward earning a diploma or passing an equivalency test and then going to college or entering the workforce.
The Crossing’s school day is shorter than a traditional school – just three hours a day – which helps students focus, Jakus said. Staff members are encouraged to develop personal relationships with students and take on a mentoring role. The school has daily “family time” when students can talk about whatever is going on in their lives, and career skills programs allow students to get involved with remodeling abandoned houses or growing and selling their own produce from two community gardens. Other after-school programs offer additional ways for students to stay engaged.
“We don’t beat kids up for what they’ve done wrong. We try to come alongside them,” Jakus said. “We look at discipline issues as an opportunity to grow. We have rules and regulations and we do discipline, but the focus is on reconciliation.”
The Crossing’s board of directors offers guidance for the school as well as financial support, Jakus said. The board helps raise money to cover student tuition, which is $100 a month if there’s no assistance available. Numerous faith-based groups support the school, as well as United Way of Howard County, the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library, Kokomo Urban Outreach, Advantage Housing, Ivy Tech Community College and CAM.
CAM and Advantage Housing have worked with the Crossing to open a women’s youth shelter for students and recent graduates of the Crossing. The Serena Youth Center still is looking for more donations to furnish rooms and a couple to act as house parents before the six young women can move in. A men’s youth shelter also is in the works.
For more information on the Crossing, call 765-319-5188 or visit www.crossingeducation.com.
Education reporter Lauren Slagter can be reached at 765-454-8587, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @LaurenSlagter.