Two Rivers School: Inside the Blue Building, Seeing the Incredible Work Being Done

What is your initial perception when you think of Snoqualmie Valley’s alternative school, Two Rivers?  Before you even think it to yourself, STOP, read and learn.  There is great work being done at the small school on Ballarat Ave in North Bend.  Initial perceptions are often wrong.

amy3_13_13Amy Montanye-Johnson has been the principal of Two Rivers School for about a year and a half now.  A former counselor at an Everett, WA  alternative school, she took the head job at Two Rivers to make an impact on kids’ lives. To do that she’s made some changes since arriving at Two Rivers.  Changes to help the small school evolve and be a place that benefits the entire Snoqualmie Valley School System.

Amy (as she likes to be called) is on a first name basis with everyone, including her 116 students.  She is friendly and obviously connected to the kids. She wants to see them succeed.  At the same time, she makes sure her students realize Two Rivers is an alternative school – not an alternative to school.  These kids know they have to work and make academic progress if they want to remain enrolled.  It’s a simple rule.

This year, Two Rivers started a new academic “Meeting Standard System.”  Basically, if a student meets an 80% learning standard for a course, they can move on –  or progress.  It’s that simple.  Students who demonstrate/prove they are learning, move forward.

This new standard allows students, if they choose, to move at a faster pace, earning a .5 credit without spending a whole semester’s time getting that needed credit.  As a result, the new standard system is helping five students hampered by past attendance issues accumulate credits needed to graduate this June.

Attendance is a common thread at Two Rivers.  It’s an issue that has set some behind on their path to graduation.  Amy says many students have completed portions of needed graduation courses and learned much of the material, but attendance problems prohibited them from passing the class and receiving full credit.  At Two Rivers, they can re-take that course at a faster pace, as long as they demonstrate and meet the 80% learning standard threshold for the material.  Amy says it’s all about academic progress.

Two Rivers is utilized by about 116-118 students.  Some are in middle school, but most are in high school.  The school takes new students 8 times per year. In January alone, they enrolled about 20 new students, who are mentored by the school’s leadership students.  Amy says many kids need the small learning environment that her school provides,  saying some students experience anxiety in large groups and bigger schools. Two Rivers is the perfect fit for their learning style.

tworivers

One benefit of the small, intimate environment at Two Rivers is the opportunity it provides Amy and other staff members to teach behavior.  In a larger school, if a student exhibits inappropriate behavior, they might be sent out of class, the proverbial “to the principal’s office,” to face the consequences of bad behavior – like detention and suspension.  At Two Rivers, Amy says she’s been given the chance to teach behavior, not just lay out consequences, demonstrating her philosophy that “discipline is about teaching.”

There aren’t many classrooms at Two Rivers, but they’re maximized for the multitude of courses taught in them.  The middle school teacher has art and shop supplies in his room, as well as numerous student projects throughout, all while he teaches language arts.

Math teacher, Jack Webber, works on the ground with five students, explaining the volume of a sphere and answering kids’ questions about why they need education.  Leadership students meet at a group table in a room also used for CTE courses like cooking.  Another room houses the school’s daycare, where three young moms can check on their children while completing high school.

Two Rivers is a modular building, which means it can be expanded easier than traditional buildings.  Amy says superintendent Joel Aune is a huge supporter of the work being done at the school, commenting that Mr. Aune once told her that if people really knew the incredible work being done inside the blue building, she would have a “line around the block.”

It’s a safe school with a home-like feel. In fact, leadership students put out a Healthy Relationship and Safety Survey this year and nearly all students said they felt safe at school.

Many Two Rivers students might be the first in their family to graduate high school – and it’s a big deal.  Amy and her staff take it very seriously.  They want to see their kids succeed.  Two Rivers graduation rate isn’t where they want it, but they’re building, creating new programs that help students progress and earn their diploma.

Teacher Jack Webber summed it up by saying Two Rivers School is a place of “high challenge, low threat, high accountability.”

Two Rivers will be hosting three upcoming informational nights on March 20th, April 24th and May 22nd.  They will talk about middle school from 6 – 6:30PM and high school from 6:30 – 7PM.

Comments

  1. Great story! My nephew just started here and it’s a great fit so far for someone with high functioning autism. A much better alternative to online school. We are fortunate to have an alternative school in our district.

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