How many alternative schools can boast receiving the following parent comment?
“I LOVE this school. By far the BEST school in (the) Mountain Home School District. Thank you for allowing my child the opportunity to attend this wonderful school!” Or this one, “I love Bennett. Currently I have my 3rd child attending Bennett. I love how Bennett treats you like family. My children have thrived since they have been at Bennett. You are awesome.”
Those comments were received by the Bennett Mountain Alternative School in Mountain Home. They represent the feelings of parents about the culture the staff of Bennett Mountain have created for their children.
Bennett Mountain was opened mid-year in January, 2013, by the Mountain Home School District Board of Trustees to serve the needs of students who had not been successful in the regular school program at Mountain Home High School and who needed an “alternative” setting to meet their needs that would keep them in school working towards successful completion of their graduation requirements.
The alternative school has grown from its original 30 students in grades 9-12 with two staff members to its current 115 students in grades 7-12 with 12 full time staff members (and a 40-student waiting list). Bennett Mountain issues every student a computer (1:1) which can be used at school and at home to do their school work, homework, and research. The school has annually ranked in the top 5 alternative schools throughout Idaho for its four-year cohort graduation rate (five-year average of 62%) which would be even higher if they could count the students who graduate in the summer beyond their graduation year or who need one additional semester to complete their diploma requirements. Those are very good graduation numbers for an alternative school. Mountain Home Superintendent James Gilbert says that “Bennett Mountain has always been a great source of pride for us. A lot of these kids are the first in their families to graduate from high school.”
The high school principal, Stehvn (pronounced Steven) Tesar, himself a 2000 graduate of Mountain Home High, returned after graduating from the University of Idaho in 2004 to teach and coach at his alma mater. He was the first, and remains the only principal Bennett Mountain has had. He has a passion for Bennett Mountain. He gave up his regular teaching position and the joy he found in coaching to open Bennett Mountain in order to create new opportunities and new relationships with students who hadn’t experienced much success in school. “I felt I could relate to kids well and that this was a good calling for me”. The students and parents of Bennett Mountain could not agree more.
Contributing to the student-centered approach, Bennett Mountain provides daycare for its teen parents which helps prevent students from having to drop out of school. They have a food pantry for students and their families needing some assistance. Students can pick up personal hygiene products that have been donated. The school works with a local organization to provide counseling and mental health services on campus. And every student has a mentor who checks in with them twice daily.
The community of Mountain Home is in full support of Bennett Mountain. Local non-profits and businesses, a Mt. Home Air Force base auxiliary and anonymous donors have contributed funds to allow the school to add handicapped access to the building, provide funds and supplies for their annual Turkey Bowl, where they serve a Thanksgiving meal to all the students and their parents, and then send a Thanksgiving dinner box home for every student and their family. Donations help provide a dinner for students and their parents during parent-teacher conferences in the fall, breakfast for students every Friday, and a pancake breakfast once every eight weeks and student birthdays, which are celebrated monthly. Because of the support for students and families, Bennett Mountain has received recognition for being one of the top 10 schools for student engagement on the ISDE annual survey. The parent engagement and satisfaction score was 92.9%. The Bennett Mountain staff registered a 98.2% level of satisfaction on the staff survey. Principal Tesar does not have difficulty filling openings, which rarely occur.
Bennett Mountain Alternative School, named after the most recognizable geographic landmark in the area, represents one of Idaho’s gems in education where achievement and satisfaction are not measured by test scores, but by the staff-student relationships that lead to individual achievement and accomplishment in the face of personal adversity.
Written by Don Coberly and Wil Overgaard, co-CEOs of Rise TVEP.