By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton’s alternative education program, the TECH Center, is getting a new name that reflects its purpose of preparing students to return to the regular classroom after a long-term suspension or other discipline issues: QUEST or Quality, Unique, Educational, Student Transition.
“We want to provide an environment that encourages not only academic growth but personal growth,” said Laura Lembke, science teacher and TECH Center coordinator.
She said the name TECH Center — an acronym for “Teach Every Child Holistically” — has a bad connotation because of its longtime use as a disciplinary placement.
The new name, QUEST, emphasizes the program’s goal of transitioning students out of the alternative education environment and back to their home schools.
The QUEST program operates on a level system. Students who attend regularly, stay in class, are passing with at least 70% accuracy, follow redirection the first time, and have three or fewer minor referrals in a nine-week period are “on level.”
Students whose performance is higher are “above level” and students whose performance is lower are “below level.”
Students on or above level get perks such as extra recreation time, attending special events, and going on field trips. Students who are below level receive no perks.
Starting in October, for six weeks, the Community Services Board will hold weekly 90-minute sessions of its youth resiliency program, which Lembke described as a form of social-emotional learning.
Other enrichment opportunities will include weekly visits from a behavior intervention specialist, school social worker, and school resource officer.
School board member Liz Jones commended Lembke and her colleagues for transforming the alternative education program into one that addresses “the whole child” and doesn’t label students as “troubled kids.”
Lembke said the QUEST program gives students the tools they need to manage the challenges of a mainstream school setting.
School board Chair Charlena Jones offered praise for the program’s emphasis on preparing students to return to their home schools.
Lembke’s plan is that within two years, the alternative education center can accommodate parents who request their children’s participation in the QUEST program. Currently, students who have long-term suspensions or chronic discipline issues are placed in the program at the discretion of administrators.
She has been busy visiting students at home before school starts. There are seven Northampton students who will begin the school year in the program.
Lembke said it was “fabulous” to visit one student who greeted her with a hug.
She said, “These kids have my heart, and they know that I am there to help them through whatever it is they need to get through in order to get back to their homeschool campus, because that is the ultimate goal.”