Approximately 25-30 students graduate from MEC program each year

A new online program has been adopted for all students at the Mexico Education Center, the alternative high school which is based at the Hart Career Center. The change from the PLATO system of computerized instruction to the e2020 program was made after a review of new programs available.
"We looked at many programs before deciding on e2020," director of MEC Chris Denham said. "We chose the most up-to-date program which added rigor to the classes for our students."
When a MEC student enrolls in a class, the lessons are provided by a certified teacher in a video presentation. Via a split screen on the individual computers, the online teacher can make key points and demonstrations on virtual whiteboards.
The students then work through the assignments and practice the concepts before being tested over the material. There is also a vocabulary component to each unit.
Each unit also adds more required writing by the students. "While online education will never be identical to classroom instruction, we want to be as close as possible content-wise to high school classes," Denham said.
To assure that the e2020 classes replicate the high school curriculum closely, MHS department chairs and some core class teachers from Mexico Middle School explored the program before school began. The teachers identified units within the e2020 classes which best aligned with the high school classes.
There are currently 40 students enrolled at MEC, divided into two classes. The program is in its seventh year in the Mexico Public Schools.
Approximately 25-30 students graduate from the program with a high school diploma each year.
Students are accepted into the program following an application and interview. The reasons for a student selecting MEC vary, according to Denham.
"Some of our students have issues they have created, and some have issues which have been created around them," Denham said. "We are starting to see fewer students who are here just because of their lack of high school credits, and more who are here due to societal issues."
Some of the students who have the greatest success at MEC are those who are 18-19 years old, and now understand the importance of a high school diploma, Denham said. "After a year or so of being out of school, they now get it. When they come back, they realize they really need a diploma."
There are two full-time teachers at MEC, Sarah Keithley and Jerry Hercules.
Keithley, who has been with the program since its inception, prefers the e2020 program. "I really like the way the students go through the process in a set order," she said. " The scaffolding of the lessons is much better, with more critical thinking skills required."
After enrolling in classes, students are given a set time to complete the lessons. They are provided with the number of days available in class, and monitored to see if they are progressing on target.
The students have to demonstrate they are working steadily, and have to follow a strict attendance policy. Students who have missed more than three days per quarter, and who are not making progress through the lessons are dismissed from the program, making room for another applicant.
"Some students have the perception that attending MEC is easier than high school, but that's not true. It's just a different approach. The small environment,and self-paced instruction, works well for some students, but is not the best fit for others," Denham said. "The choice to be here is always the student's. We give them an opportunity to graduate from high school, but it's not a guarantee. They are still required to obtain the same number of credits and to meet attendance and behavioral expectations."
MEC offers some classes which are not taught online, such as art, humanities and mythology. These classes give students the opportunity to interact with each other. Some of the offline classes are project-based, while others use a more traditional textbook to deliver the content.
Service learning is also a key element in the curriculum. Each year students select projects in which to become involved. They assist with programs and events at the Early Childhood Center, and collect items for the Help Center. Some years the students choose an advocacy project, research an issue, and do a letter-writing campaign.
A small number of MEC students are dual enrolled at MHS or taking a class at Hart Career Center. MEC students are allowed to participate in extra-curricular activities at the schools, as long as they have the required grade point average and meet the standards of the Missouri State High School Activities Association.
Since MEC purchased a license for the e2020 program which can accommodate multiple users, components of the program can be used by high school teachers. "Any teacher in the district can login and pull up the content," Denham said. "For example, teachers might choose to use one of the virtual lab videos to supplement instruction in their classrooms. Inviting the department chairs in to preview the program has shown them the possibilities."
Components of the e2020 program can also be used to help high school students who are experiencing academic failure, which may help keep them from dropping out of school. "At MHS, there are credit recovery classes offered as independent study, and e2020 can be a part of this class," he said. "There is the ability to do unit recovery if students fail one area, or to catch up before they fail."
Students who are homebound, or who simply miss multiple weeks of school also can be given an assignment from e2020 to make up required work.