Students facing suspension and expulsion in the Post Falls School District aren’t being sent home. Instead, they prepare and serve lunch at the Post Falls Senior Center. The option is offered through the district’s Alternative to Suspension Program (ATS) launched in 2003.
“We were finding that kids who were suspended or expelled either got hurt or into more trouble,” said Mark Jones, the ATS coordinator. “Volunteering shows students they have value to the community.”
Nearly 100 students in grades 7-12 participate in the ATS program each year. Jazmin Smith, a junior at New Visions High School, has been part of the program since eighth grade. She was suspended for a theft incident in middle school and then again freshman year.
“It’s a lot better than sitting at home thinking about what you did,” Smith said.
When Smith first attended ATS she thought it was a waste of time and didn’t realize the value. Her second experience changed her mind.
“I thought I was just cleaning up after people,” Smith said. “I realized it was a privilege because I got to communicate with people and learn a life experience.”
Parents are given the option of home suspension however, students on diversion or probation are required to attend ATS.
Besides the lunch program, students can help the community in other ways from maintaining trails at local parks or assisting senior citizens with yard work.
“When a new student comes to ATS it’s an eye-opener,” Jones said. “They might not be the best worker, but they are giving input to the entire team and realize they don’t need to be withdrawn.”
Former Post Falls mayor Clay Larkin has been going to the senior center for nearly 20 years. Each year he likes to interact with the students and find out what led them to ATS.
“They always have different opinions — some are scared and others are open,” Larkin said. “This gives them a cultural experience and not the perspective of just a bunch of old people having lunch.”
Smith, who hasn’t been suspended since freshman year, is still volunteering at ATS. Jones believes the more positive people she interacts with, the more positive the outcome for her future.
“You create a special relationship and I get advice from the senior citizens,” Smith said. “ATS has changed my life around in a positive way and I love coming back to help.”