One by one: the first year of Mid City High
One by one, the students at Mid City High School come through the doors in the morning, greeted by name.
One by one, they walk past the definition of a Maverick, written in purple on the wall. The students chose the school mascot, the school colors, the school name for this brand new high school of the Davenport Community School District.
One by one, they go to their classes with hopes of earning a high school diploma.
Mid City High School is not an average high school. Some may call it an alternative high school, or perhaps a non-traditional school.
Its beauty, its grace, its strength lies in its complexity – a complexity demanded by the life circumstances of each of the 220 students, one by one.
“The experiences and challenges of the students are so vast and diverse that my life is enriched when I have the opportunity to sit down with them and learn about their lives,” said Jake Klipsch, who is the school’s new principal and St. Paul member.
“It is inspiring. Some of the obstacles they face seem almost insurmountable. The places our students come from and the stories they bring with them are often heart breaking. I hope we can give them the support, the guidance, and the love they need and deserve.”
The door opens and Dave Thede welcomes visitors to the bright, sunny shop at Mid City High School.
On this particular day, Mr. Thede was leading a class called Recreational Equipment, Materials, and Process. With safety goggles, closed-toe shoes, and steady hands, the students are learning how to make sinkers for fishing.
Lexie Jett is one of the students. She talks about her two-year-old daughter while she pours melted lead into molds. Nick Byars is on day three at Mid City and he smiles when he talks about how helpful the teachers are.
And Zach Keding mentions how when he had a choice for classes, this one sounded interesting.
Mr. Thede designed this class specifically for kids at Mid City. He teaches a home repair class, too, among others.
“A lot of our kids live independently, so we’re teaching them things they can do on their own to save money, to survive on their own,” Mr. Thede said.
The high school is the newest building in the Davenport Community School District, the expansion and transformation of a long-running alternative high school program called the Kimberly Center, formerly housed in a warehouse-like building. The $11 million project at the corner of Kimberly and Marquette streets was paid for with what is called the local option sales tax.
What that means is that anyone who purchased anything in Scott County anytime over the past several years supported the construction.
Most of the building was ready for students this past fall. A ribbon cutting celebrated its opening. Construction continues on a robotics classroom, a physical activity center, a music room, and a space for the school’s child care center. Approximately 10 percent of the school’s students are parents.
Class sizes are small, with no more than 15 students per class.
It’s not the school where kids go when they get kicked out of other schools, Jake said. Every kid who wants to be a Mid City student must apply and interview to get in.
“There’s not one type of kid who comes here,” he said. There are kids with anxiety issues. There are kids who have made bad choices. There are kids who are homeless or live on their own. There are kids who are transgendered – and individual bathrooms don’t leave them worrying about which one to choose.
But even with their differences, they, for the most part, share one thing in common: “Almost all of them would drop out of high school if they didn’t have this place,” Jake said.
A crew of 25 teachers and 15 support staff guide the days with a passion for serving. For example, one of the school’s secretaries chose to work at Mid City because she is a graduate of an alternative program.
The media specialist started a parenting group that meets every other week.
Every day, posts on the school’s social media recognize individual students for showing kindness, or for a goal achieved. A service learning class is partnering up with the school’s neighbors to work on projects, ranging from picking up trash along Marquette Street to teaching a technology class at the Center for Active Seniors Inc.
Teachers are given the opportunity to design classes that encourage students to ignite passions and explore potential careers.
The school’s program is supported by grants beyond state funding. One supports an afterschool program for kids who are homeless. Case workers, a juvenile court liaison, mental health counselors are supported by grant dollars too.
Samantha Pacha is one of the case workers. In her office, she runs a free “shop” where kids can come and pick up soap, conditioner, toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant, and other personal care items.
Stored in carefully organized bins, the donated items give students a boost of self-esteem.
She opens up a file folder that she is getting ready to give to a new student. She asks the students to write down goals, and journal about progress they’ve made. The folder also includes phone numbers to call if they need help with sexuality, abuse, mental health.
It’s a folder about their life, Samantha said. A quote inside reads: “You are given this because you are strong enough to live it.”
Some of the students at Mid City High close at their jobs in the early, early hours of the morning and need to start their school day later than most. Others need to come for just a couple of hours a day to get a handful of credits to graduate.
Some travel to other high schools for specific programs, such as the Creative Arts Academy or a Junior ROTC unit.
In December, the first graduating class of Mid City High School walked across the stage to receive their high school diploma.
For many of those 30 kids, their graduation represented another first, Jake said: They are the first person in their family to graduate from high school.
And one by one, the goal is for them to live fulfilled lives.
“Our greatest hope,” Jake said, “is that they each have the widest range of opportunities possible. If they choose to go to college, technical school, the military, or to work, we hope they are doing so by their own choice.
“We want them to be happy in what they are doing. We don’t want them to be forced into what they will be for the rest of their life.”