Arlington’s Open Doors program providing students pathway to get ahead in life

ARLINGTON – Arlington 16-year-old student Nazarelli Macias is handling the tough job of raising a child, but the young mom is determined to earn her high school diploma for her and her baby’s futures.

“Having a diploma allows me to have more career options,” Macias said.

Under Arlington Public Schools’ new Open Doors program that made its debut in September, the program is giving Macias flexibility in her busy schedule to complete her courses online at home at her own pace, gain valuable tutoring, and get the personal touch from staff ready to provide a supportive ear and shoulder to lean on.

The statewide Open Doors Youth Reengagement Programprovides education and services to youth ages 16-21 who have dropped out of school or are not expected to graduate by the age of 21. Open Doors uses APEX Learning courses and online tutorials.

Arlington’s program is at Weston High School, where there are 27 students pursuing their high school diploma or Genenal Education Diploma. Students meet one to one with a case manager twice a month to review their progress, and to get help with any issues that may be hampering progress.

“Open Doors can be a good fit for students who have dropped out of school or who are considering dropping out due to life changes, work or other circumstances,” said Renee McArt, Open Doors case manager and instructor. “The program provides later hours than a typical school to accommodate students who may work during the day.”

The reasons for falling behind vary among students. Some couldn’t make up for lost time due to family or full-time work commitments, lack of motivation through traditional learning, or they’re homeless, couch-surfing or living on their own.

“A lot of times students just fall into the trap where they’ve gotten behind in credits,” McArt said. “Then they need to dig out of a hole so deep they can’t get out of it.”

Students are offered free and reduced lunch, access to showers, and washer/dryer facilities. Referrals for mental health, and drug and alcohol counseling can be provided, plus bus passes are given to students with limited or no transportation.

”’We believe so that all students can achieve,’” is their motto, said Kathy Ehman, district assistant superintendent.

Open Doors is partnering with Workforce Snohomish to give students access to career and job-related courses as well as job placement services. They provide employment training, resume writing, interview skills, and assistance with volunteer opportunities and paid internships and jobs.

McArt started her outreach in August, calling students who had dropped out, and has since been building relationships with counselors in Arlington schools, as well as Darrington and Lakewood, for out-of-district students.

It’s hard to do better than word of mouth from the mouths of the youths themselves, though.

“My students are my best advertisers,” McArt said. “They want to get their diploma or GED, the need is there, and kids know kids.”

For details on the program, call McArt at 360-618-6336.

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