ISHPEMING - Ask anyone who studies or works at "Hartman High" in Ishpeming, and they'll tell you the same thing: it's like a family.
"I had a lot of troubles at other schools. The work was really hard for me," said Jordan Oleander, 16, a sophomore. "I was struggling and this was a good option. I came here and tried it and I loved it."
The school acts as an alternative high school for students living within the NICE Community Schools, Negaunee Public Schools and Ishpeming Public Schools districts who may be finding it difficult to succeed in a traditional school setting.
Freshman Shawn Hakkarinen, 14, reads during out loud during class Tuesday at the west end’s alternative high school in Ishpeming. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
The school is the brainchild of Bill Hartman, director of the community education division among those three school districts, and building principals within those districts.
"Hartman High" is the affectionate nickname given to the alternative school by its students and staff.
Hartman said the school helps cultivate a good sense of self-worth among students who may be left behind in a standard school setting.
"The importance that we feel is get these kids back into school where they feel part of their own school," Hartman said. "They've always maybe felt left out when they go to a bigger school."
Hartman said the program began with roughly 10 students, but now averages between 55 and 60 students each year.
Carole Prisk, who has been teaching in the school since its inception in the '90s, and has been involved in the adult services type of education since the '70s, said it's programs like this that help kids who are outside the norm stay on track.
"I think a lot of them would just slip through the cracks and be high school dropouts, and how difficult it is to get anywhere without that high school diploma, to get that entry level job is impossible," Prisk said
Prisk said she takes a lot of pride in her job, and tries to show her students that every day.
"I personally always tell them that I chose to teach in this venue, that I like my kids spicy, that I like 'em with a little bit of pizzaz and panache and that I'm here because I want to be here, not because this was the only job I could get," Prisk said. "I've been doing this since 1976, I must like it."
Barbara Blewett, a retired guidance counselor turned English teacher, said alternative schools are essential in every city and every town.
"I do think this is critical for every community because there are students who don't make it in the traditional setting for many reasons," Blewett said. "I don't want to say they all come from a dysfunctional home, but many of them are trying to make it on their own. It's tough enough to just do that, much less try to go to school in a very structured setting. I think this provides an excellent alternative for kids."
Prisk said the small class sizes help bolster the capabilities of students who often learn best by doing.
"A lot of our students are kinetic," Prisk said. "They do much better if they can touch it and do something with it, get their hands in it, so we can do more of that because the class sizes are smaller, there's more opportunity for the learner that needs to do more repetitions."
And though alternative schools are often given a bad reputation just by virtue of being alternatives, Blewett said the students that come to Hartman High are ready to learn and eager to earn their diplomas.
"They want to be here and they enjoy school and those that don't want to work don't cut the mustard, so to say, don't make it here," Blewett said. "They see it as a positive way to get their diploma."
Haley Leader, 17 and a senior, is hoping to graduate this year and go on to study cosmetology. She said the tight-knit community at Hartman High is helping keep her and every other student on the road that leads to a high school diploma.
"Everyone's like a big family here, everyone knows each other," Leader said. "it's all smooth throughout the whole year."
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.