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High School Learning Center gives struggling students a second chance

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The High School Learning Center is a stand alone school in the Corning-Painted Post School District. The school gives a second chance to students that were not on the path to graduate, and helps set them up to be successful in the community.

“Everyone comes here for different reasons- the drama, the bullying, addiction, some people have been out of school for years and want to start over,” Kelly Wright, a graduate from the High School Learning Center, said.

For Kelly, she is not sure what her future would have looked like if she did not leave the Corning High School.

“I honestly don’t think I’d be here today in general, I was very depressed and I don’t think I would have been able to keep going,” Wright said. “When I came here I realized I do have people who care about me.”

Dave Quackenbush is the lead teacher at the school and helped found it in 2002. He credits the school district for recognizing capable students were dropping out of school.

“Life isn’t easy for everyone out of school, let alone in school,” Quackenbush said. “We knew there were some great humans out there that just weren’t getting connected like they needed to in the regular school.”

Quackenbush says the key is creating a safe environment and individual attention.

“We call ourselves a family because we can support each other,” Angel Carl, a current student said.

At a typical high school it can be easy to get lost in the crowds.

“The teachers didn’t notice I was sitting in the bathroom three periods in a row having an anxiety attack,” Angel said.

Angel did not think it was possible, and now she is graduating in a few months.

Bradford Leiby graduated from the learning center in 2008. He was not sure he would graduate either.

“I would spend a lot of time in ISS, or the room for kids that were in trouble, rather than my classes,” Bradford said.

Bradford says growing up with a single mom was difficult, but teachers at the learning center did not just help students in school, but outside the classroom walls too.

“They pick you up and bring you to school if you can’t get there,” Bradford said.

Students are required to work or volunteer a minimum of 15 hours of week in the community. For Bradford, they set him up at the Rockwell Museum. Now, 10 years later, he is still working there and teaching an art class to students.

“It’s a great thing to be part of and feel like I am giving back to something that gave so much to me,” Leiby said.

Since starting, the High School Learning Center has graduated close to 250 people.

“Day after day, I’m in awe of them because I don’t know if I would have the fortitude to make those choices that they did to turn their life around,” Quackenbush said. “Some came from pretty horrific backgrounds.”

Even those students who have graduated, like Kelly, say they are not going anywhere quite yet.

“I tell them, don’t think I’m never coming back, because I’m just never going away,” Kelly said. “It’s my safe place.”

The school is on trimester system, so three times a year, there are possibilities for students in the Corning-Painted Post School District to apply. Students have to go through a rigorous application process and show they are committed to working on new futures for themselves. 

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