New school gives students hope for a second chance

Kent School District’s iGrad program gives students options to finish high school.

Elhier Montiel is at school when no one else is — iGrad is closed between class sessions, but Montiel is there, determined to earn his diploma.

“He’s always here. He’s here now, he’ll be back tonight. Every time he can breathe, he’s here,” said Carol Cleveland, iGrad principal.

Montiel, a former Kentwood student who is working towards earning a Kent School District diploma, said iGrad has helped him to get on track.

“I like it here,” Montiel said. “Being able to do what I’m to supposed to on my time, helping myself to be self motivated.”

iGrad, the newest school in the Kent School District, offers hope and second chances to students. Located in a storefront in Kent not far from Kent-Meridian High, nothing about it says traditional school environment, which is often ideal for teens like Montiel.

iGrad is a dropout re-engagement program and is one of a kind in Washington state, Cleveland said.

The program is open to Washington state students age 16-21 who don’t have a high school diploma. iGrad works with students for whom a traditional school setting didn’t work. According to Cleveland, students who come to iGrad are typically significantly credit deficient, they may have been expelled from another school, have special needs, be English language learners or homeschool students.

“Things are exciting, rewarding and challenging all at the same time,” Cleveland said.

The program, which is a partnership between the Kent School District and Green River Community College, offers three different tracks.

Students can earn a Kent School District diploma, a Washington State Diploma or a GED. After completing the program students can go on to earn their associate’s degree or a variety of other certificates.

“It offers hope,” Cleveland said. “It gives these kids access to things they never dreamed.”

The idea for iGrad began in November 2011 as a series of conversations between KSD and Green River administrators and officials, Cleveland said.

The district and college submitted a proposal to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction for approval. Students were initially recruited via postcards mailed to teens who had dropped out of Kent schools.

Since opening last summer enrollment has grown rapidly.

As of Jan. 1, 463 students from around Washington were enrolled in iGrad and more than 20 had already earned a diploma or GED.

“Word of mouth is traveling faster than any list we can get,” Cleveland said.

Cleveland hopes that the program will continue to grow and will be able to expand in the future.

“It’s time to get creative in the education system about meeting student needs,” Cleveland said. “Here the door is open.”

Montiel expects to have earned his diploma within the next month and plans to pursue his associate’s degree at Green River.

“I would welcome anybody here,” Montiel said. “If you have the opportunity, come.”