The Missouri Option Program is the last tool in the toolbox; it's at-risk students' last opportunity to earn a diploma.
has participated in Missouri Option Program since 2006. Requirements are set by the state and implemented and funded by the school district.
“Students who choose this program realize it’s their last chance,” said Amelia Baum, who teaches the program in Parkway. “Students are thinking ‘Either I get my diploma through (Missouri Option), or I’m a dropout,’ and they’re right.”
In a presentation at the Parkway school board's June meeting, district administrators said the students in the Missouri Option Program said the top reasons they became disengaged from school were the school environment, their school performance and attendance.
Students 17 and older can enroll in the program if they are a year behind in school, said Michael Barolak, the district's coordinator of student discipline. “Once enrolled, students forfeit the opportunity to re-enroll in other Parkway programs," he said. The district expects student commitment and requires them to sign a contract to that effect.
Craig Croy, a 19-year-old student, made that commitment and earned his diploma in early July. "I had personal issues, too much social life, and was struggling in two classes. I got into (the program) to earn credits, and it helped me finish school," Croy said.
Each week, students attend class for 15 hours and perform 15 hours of community service or work. Baum develops study plans that focus on student's deficiencies. Class sizes are small; learning is intense and largely self-directed.
“Students then take responsibility for their own learning,” Baum said. “I am there to facilitate, answer questions, and monitor work and volunteer hours.”
Croy said smaller classes allowed for more one-on-one time between students and their teacher. "Less distraction helped too," he said. "And it's independent study, so I could go at my own pace."
Students take the GED test after completing their assigned study plan. They must pass a government course and United States and Missouri constitution exams. Successful students earn a diploma from the Parkway School District and graduate from Fern Ridge High School. Barolak said that since the program’s inception, 71 percent of participating students earned their diploma.
Those who don't finish the program lose their chance at a diploma. Taking a community-based general equivalency course is then the only path to completing a high school education.
“There is a stigma to the GED versus graduating with a diploma,” Barolak said. “There are more requirements to get the diploma through (Missouri Options), and it benefits the student to have a diploma.”
Baum is confident her students can attend college successfully. “They’ve overcome a lot of barriers to get where they are. They have earned a diploma, and they can walk across that stage in their cap and gown,” she said. “These students are on the right track.”
Croy has applied to Ranken Technical College and plans to study carpentry. He hopes to go on to study medical science in college.
"Getting into this program was like a breath of fresh air to me. I struggled in regular high school," Croy said. "But I got into Missouri Options and achieved. I did this myself."