Bryan School gives students a second chance

Bryan Community teacher Sydney Tetrault says teachers and students develop close relationships at the alternative high school. Photo: Anna Mostek, NewsNetNebraska

By Anna Mostek, NewsNetNebraska

If it hadn’t been for Bryan Community High School, Scott Smith believes he would most likely be in jail right now.

“Honestly, I probably would not be out walking around,” Smith said. “I never would’ve graduated high school and wouldn’t be in college.”

Like many Bryan students, Smith started out at another Lincoln public high school and transferred to Bryan’s alternative program, which caters to at-risk students.

Students and staff think Bryan Community is a special place because it offers its students a second chance at success. The school is small enough for teachers to spend extra one-on-one time with students. It also creates specialized plans for post-graduation, offers programs to develop skills and helps students with anything and everything they need.

But most importantly, Bryan acts more like a home than a school.

“For a lot of our kids, Bryan is the safest place in their lives,” said Sydney Tetrault, who teaches English. “They look forward to being here. A lot of our kids don’t have adults in their lives, and so for a lot of them, we are mom and dad. It’s exhausting, but it’s rewarding, and I think that’s why I probably wouldn’t teach anywhere else.”

The Bryan teachers aren’t just educators; they take an active role in their students’ lives.

“We go to the birthday parties. We help them raise money and we go to the hospital when they’ve had babies,” Tetrault said. “It’s just something we do. It’s just part of the connection we have with the kids I think.”

Tetrault recalled a student who reached out to her after his mother committed suicide.

“I was touched that I was the first person he called,” she said. “I would never have thought of not going over to spend time with him.”

Bryan Community was started in the early 1980s as a half-day program for junior high and high school at-risk students. Today, it’s an all-day high school with 155 students, 11 teachers, a social worker and a therapist. It’s located in an old elementary school nestled in a neighborhood near 40th and South streets.

“It’s expanded and evolved as we’ve gone through,” Principal Gary Czapla said. “Now we have a much bigger focus on student’s lives after they complete graduation.”

Bryan Community is a close-knit altnernative high school catering to at-risk students. It offers many special programs– one being an in-school childcare center.The ultimate goal of the Student Child Learning Center is to help student parents graduate. NewsNetNebraska reporter Anna Mostek has the story. [media id=18 width=360 height=264]

Smith can testify to that focus. He credits the staff with helping him get accepted into college and earn scholarships to SCC.

“They did so much for me, and I really appreciate all of it,” he said.

Being the first person to graduate from high school in his family, Smith used the College First Generation program to earn dual credits at both Bryan Community and SCC.

“Taking the college courses at Bryan made it a lot easier because it gave me a chance to see what classes were going to be like before I had to pay for them and take them,” Smith said. “I was ecstatic the day I graduated.”

Smith attends SCC and is studying business administration. He enrolled in the military and will be sent off to boot camp this summer, hoping to finish college online.

Students looking to transfer to Bryan Community are first interviewed by the school’s social worker and therapist, who determine what kind of a support system the student needs and put a specialized plan together for them, Czapla said.

Many are lacking academically, he said.

“They’re capable of it, but it takes a lot of work and dedication and it takes a very astute teacher,” he said. “It’s one thing to teach third grade reading to a third grader, but it’s different to teach six grade reading to a 19-year-old.”

It’s important to help students get over the mindset that they are at a different level than other high school students, Czapla said.

“Many students have high school set as their highest educational sight,” he said. “Some just don’t think they have the money or intelligence to move forward, and so that’s the biggest challenge— to break some of the stereotypes they have and give them the academic skills to feel confident.”

Class sizes at Bryan Community range from 11 to 15 students per teacher, giving students a lot of opportunity for personal attention.

The Bryan staff believes failing is not an option for their students.

“I’ve heard so many kids say they’ve never finished a book in high school, because people give up on them,” Tetrault said. “They’ve spent too many years disappearing in the back of the room with teachers telling them ‘I don’t care.’ They can’t do that with us. There is no disappearing act.”

The teachers realize they play a different role at Bryan than they might at other schools, Tetrault said.

“I do a lot of pats on the backs, handshakes, high fives, hugs. They need that,” she said. “I have some kids that hug me almost every day before they leave, and I know that’s the only hug they’ve gotten that day from anybody.”

Former Bryan Community student Scott Smith, who visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., during a class field trip last year, says the programs at the alternative high school are helping him attend college. Photo courtesy of Sydney Tetrault

As former students like Smith can attest, Bryan’s special programs also are important in helping students reach their goals.

The Student Child Learning Center is one example of success. The center is an in-school childcare program for student parents, who also are required to take a parenting class as part of their curriculum at Bryan Community.

“We had 14 out of 15 teen moms graduate one year,” Czapla said. “Before [the childcare center] we probably would’ve lost 80 to 90 percent of them.”

Another program — College First Generation — which Smith used, invites SCC instructors to the school for three quarters to work with students so they can earn dual credit for both schools and also generate admission requirements for SCC.

An advisor-advisee program pairs every student with an adult who is responsible for making sure the student is staying on track with grades and will graduate, “playing an extended adult role for that student,” Czapla said.

Czapla believes that that a student’s success is dependent on Bryan providing them with the tools and letting them make the choice to be successful or not.

“If we don’t give them the same skills [as other students], we’re forcing them into lower income jobs and into jobs where they’ll be the first ones fired,” he said. “You want to set the dream out there, but you have to give them the realistic skills to reach that dream.”

Czapla said his goal is to have 100 percent of Bryan Community’s students “walking out and being successful.”

“Right now, we’re maybe at 50 percent,” he said.

With no tolerance for failure and a dedicated staff, Czapla is optimistic. So are his teachers.

“We’re doing a great job with the kids. We just are,” Tetrault said. “Every teacher in this building is here because they want to be. We could all probably get jobs somewhere else, but this is where we want to be.”

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