Key performance students discover alternative path

Kelsey Anderson needed a different path to graduation.

She went to Palisade High School. She went to Valley East alternative school. She tried online classes. Nothing stuck.

Three-quarters of the way through her junior year, the assistant principal at Palisade High School suggested Anderson enroll in the high school’s key performance program. The program allows students to take projects and online courses to demonstrate knowledge in multiple subjects.

Rather than rack up credits in the traditional classroom, key performance students present a portfolio of what they’ve learned in order to earn a District 51 high school diploma.

“I’m really glad I did it. It was really personalized,” Anderson said. “I’d recommend it to everybody.”

Seventeen-year-old Anderson, who wants to become a tattoo artist and attend salon school after her child is born in two months, is one of 30 students graduating with a key performance diploma this month.

The program began with one student five years ago and has graduated 73 students total. The 15 to 20 slots for key performance students at each local high school already are full for next school year.

The district modeled the key performance program after a similar one at Aims Community College in Greeley, according to key performance teacher Gretchen Haptonstall, who works at Fruita Monument High School and sat on a committee that looked at adding alternative programs to the district. The committee’s goal was to develop programs that helped students graduate on a different time table, she said.

Jon Skogen, 18, who graduated from Fruita Monument High School with a key performance degree this month, said he couldn’t keep up with his teachers’ pace in a traditional classroom.

It would have taken him at least five extra semesters to graduate from Basalt High School, the school he transferred from.

“It was a dead-end road,” Skogen said.

With projects and online courses, Skogen could set his own pace for learning each topic.

That doesn’t mean he could miss days or slack off. Like all key performance students, he had a small window to complete portfolios in career planning, civics, consumer awareness, science, technology, the arts, self-awareness and cultural awareness.

Key performance students also take career and school subject proficiency assessments and have to give a PowerPoint presentation on what they’ve learned.

“Everyone thinks it’s easy, but it’s so not easy,” Skogen said.

Haptonstall agrees.

“There’s a big misconception that it’s the easy road. Every student I’ve had has said, ‘No, it’s not,’ ” she said.

It’s not simple. But for some kids it’s what works, said District Dropout Prevention Coordinator Cathy Haller.

“One-hundred percent of (key performance) students say they wouldn’t have graduated without it,” she said.


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