March 20 05:59 PM

An alternative approach

Venture's Todd Barraco says students respond to tougher rules

Venture High School Student Council members Hannah Houston, Eric Lang, Anthony Sutphin, Natalie Gervasone and A.D. Rodriguez discuss ideas for some class fundraisers, while Principal Todd Barraco looks on. photo by Tom Wearing.

October 21, 2009
IMLAY CITY — Students without a good attitude, self-respect and a willingness to learn and get along with others need not apply to Venture High School, says new Dean of Students/Principal Todd Barraco.

Hired for the post in late August, Barraco says he is noting some positive results from the new rules he instituted at the alternative high school at the beginning of the year.

A former Lapeer County parole officer and part-time police officer, Barraco claims he is strict, but fair in his dealings with students.

He believes that by setting high standards and promoting shared respect, his students will achieve at a higher level and be better prepared to assimilate to post-high school life.

Barraco points to the school's new attendance policy, requiring that a student not miss more than seven days during any 10-week marking period, lest they lose credit.

On the flip side, there are incentives for good attendance; including adding from 2-5 points to the final exam scores for those who miss six and fewer days during a given marking period.

Barraco also subscribes to an unofficial "good attitude" policy which includes being honest and willing to adhere to the school's rules and regulations.

Lastly, says Barraco, is the school's closed campus rule, which means all students must remain on-site during their lunch hours.

"The response from the students has been positive," says Barraco. "Some of them might not like the rules, but they respect them. The main thing is that they show respect, and that they know they are safe and comfortable in this environment.

"I'm seeing more and more of the kids open up," he continues. "For those who need to talk, we will listen to them."

Adhering to rules and discipline are crucial to the development of students, says Barraco, along with giving them the chance to learn at their own pace in a supportive environment.

"Without this school, a lot of these kids would fall through the cracks and not meet their own goals or those of the community," he says. "It benefits everyone when young people are given a second chance to be successful. I think all students want to succeed."

Barraco says Venture students come from various backgrounds and family situations; including teen pregnancy, loss of a loved one, being behind in credits toward graduation, recent dropouts, or simply having difficulty in a traditional high school setting.

"A lot of the kids benefit from the smaller classroom sizes," says Barraco. "They get more one-on-one attention and often achieve at a much higher level under these conditions."

Barraco says other new additions such as creation of a five-member student council, organized sports and social events, fundraisers and community service are gaining interest among students.

About 15 students have signed up for basketball competition with other alternative schools; while girls' volleyball and bowling teams are also high on the list of student interests.

Student council leader Eric Lang, 18, says he and fellow members, Hannah Houston, Anthony Sutphin, Natalie Gervasone and A.D. Rodriguez, have been discussing ways to include the student body in activities.

Some of the ideas bantered about thus far include; a class yearbook, movie nights, dances and various fundraisers to benefit the school and pay for sports activities.

Lang appreciates the chance Venture High School has afforded him and his classmates.

"A school like this gives us a second chance," says Lang. "It keeps us in school and it keeps us from doing things we shouldn't. It gives us a foundation."

Hannah Houston, 17, who wants to attend college, says the rules don't bother her. If anything, they force her and other students to adopt behaviors they will need to succeed after high school.

"There's a lot of cracking down," Hannah says, "but it helps straighten us out. It helps us prepare for the future.

"It's a good environment to learn in," she continues. "We're like a big family and we all get along."

"It's also good for kids who have problems in regular school," adds 17-year-old Natalie Gervasone. "We can get a lot more attention and one-on-one help when we need it."

Barraco reminds that the school's curriculum and credit requirements for graduation meet Michigan guidelines. Students are also required to participate in the Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP testing) and qualify for the State of Michigan Merit Award scholarship.

There are currently 73 students enrolled at the school, which is open to students ages 16-19 from surrounding districts; contingent on their providing their own transportation. Bus service is provided to students living in the Imlay City school district.

In addition to Barraco and school secretary Michelle Schutz, the school is staffed by four teachers. They include Jeanette Bennett (history, government and computers); Doug Sloan, (science, biology and chemistry); Kim Spencer, (math, algebra and geometry): and Deborah Crowe, (English, language arts and geography).

For more information, call Venture High School at 810-724-9814. The school is located on Almont Avenue, south of Newark Road.

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