Students, Parents Praise Star Lane Center; Oppose Its Proposed Closure
There's more to the alternative Star Lane Center program of problem-based learning in the Natrona County School District than cold data about lagging test scores, said students, their parents and teachers.
"My son is an alum of Star Lane," Dr. Sarah Daane-Froehlich told the district's board of trustees during a nearly two-and-a-half-hour board meeting at Kelly Walsh High School on Monday.
Her son, Franklin Froelich, is in his second year at Casper College and intends to earn a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, Daane-Froelich said.
"I firmly believe that if he had not had Star Lane to go to, he would not have completed high school," she said. "He does not have a thought process and a brain that processes learning the way learning normally is done in the traditional schools here."
The problem-based learning method worked for him and works for a lot of students in the district, Daane-Froelich said.
The program links traditional academic subjects such as math with skills such as welding.
Earlier Monday, district trustees heard a presentation showing students in Star Lane, which operates at the year-old Pathways Innovation Center, were underperforming on their ACT tests, and district-wide surveys of students and parents indicated a lack of interest in the program.
Trustees and administrators of the high schools said the problem-based learning program wasn't doing enough to teach core fundamental skills, and they believed it was appropriate to phase out the program next year.
But Daane-Froelich disagreed, as did her son and several dozen others.
Franklin Froelich always struggled with math -- critical for engineering, he said.
But Star Lane taught and empowered him to now deal with calculus, physics and other subjects, and he's a straight-A student, Froelich said. "I realize how much Star Lane has helped me overcome my challenges to get to where I am today."
Before he attended Star Lane, a counselor told him that he should give up on his goal because he wasn't good at math, he said. "That's like me telling you guys (trustees), I don't agree with your decision to close Star Lane. Go home. Find another career."
Stuart MacKenzie said Star Lane had the same effect on his son who might have dropped out otherwise, but is now a student at the University of Wyoming.
MacKenzie recommended the trustees do some problem-based learning of their own in light of what he and others have experienced compared with the test results data.
"I have no idea how students I have come in contact with Star Lane can do so bad in those kind of testing," he said. "There is a mismatch here, and I'm not sure how you can make a reasonable decision based with these two conflicting things."
Cat Williams credited the Star Lane Center for her desire for community service at the Boys and Girls Club of Central Wyoming and showed off the Academic Decathlon medals hanging on the ribbons around her neck.
"Star Lane Center is a school for those who can't or do not wish to learn (by) traditional methods; those who can't sit in a classroom for an hour and be lectured," Williams said.
Star Lane student Eric Huffer said it taught him how to think critically, hone research skills and create a family atmosphere not found in the traditional learning of the major high schools.
Some students and parents decried what they said was a stigma they've perceived among students, teachers and administrators at the high school that Star Lane is just a trade school in disguise, or for students who want an easy academic ride.
Juana Simental's son struggled at a local elementary and middle school, and now is making progress at Star Lane and wants to go to college, she said.
But Simental and her son encountered negative attitudes with people telling her Star Lane was a program for delinquents, she said. "The stigma has to be stopped."