At 9:30 on Wednesday morning, Larry Comadena had 23 text messages from his students at Logan High South Campus.
If they aren’t in class when the bell rings, Comadena or a South Campus teacher will check in and ask why.
“I’m texting, I’m calling kids and parents so I know your name,” he said. “Hey, your dad got laid off. Hey, what's happened to your mom? What can we do to help?’”
South Campus students are all there for a different reason. Some have problems with academics, some struggle with their behavior, some have mental or physical issues and some were bullied at the Logan High main campus.
Comadena, the dean of students at South Campus, said these students went from a situation where teachers might not have known their name to a setting where teachers create individual plans for each student and are constantly asking how they can help.
“Kids naturally gravitate toward that, that’s what’s so appealing about this school and that’s why it’s worked over the years. The staff is amazing,” he said.
After the class of 2017 walks across the stage on May 24, the South Campus building — a five block walk from the main campus — will close its doors for good as an alternative high school. Next year, South Campus students will join the Innovations program at Logan High’s main campus.
It’s part of the vision of Logan High Principal Ken Auld.
When he was hired last year, he immediately noticed a problem at South Campus. Students can take their core classes in the small building, but they have to walk to the main campus to take electives. They are on a different bell schedule in a building five blocks away.
“These kids are struggling to graduate because they don’t have access to a lot of elective classes, and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, that’s kind of a problem,’” Auld said.
As Logan High is under construction and there are several extra classrooms, Auld started a conversation about moving South Campus students back to the main campus. He wanted to expand the spirit of South Campus to more students while allowing current South Campus students to have easier access to electives.
“That’s the purpose and intent of bringing South Campus up here, is to give every kid at Logan High School an opportunity to have as many experiences as they can in school to be successful,” Auld said.
The introduction of the Innovations program at Logan High created a great opportunity, he said. The idea is modeled after Innovations Early College High School in Salt Lake City. There isn’t a set bell schedule, and students can choose how to spend their time to earn credits. They can spend all day working on online math assignments in their English teacher’s classroom if they want. It provides more freedom but each student has a mentor-teacher to keep them on track.
Auld said Innovations is similar to South Campus as each student essentially has their own individualized plan.
“We thought that would be very appealing and with moving them up here, that would be a nice bridge to help them be successful,” he said.
But teachers at South Campus have expressed some concern about the wellbeing of their students if they go back to the main campus, as well as some reservations about the Innovations program.
Jennifer Fife, the social studies teacher at South Campus, said she understands that there are challenges with the way the school is set up, but a lot of her students are at South Campus because they didn’t function well at the main campus. Some have social anxiety and can’t handle crowds.
“I hope it works, I know the district has the best of intentions,” Fife said.
She said she is also concerned that the Innovations model might not work for everyone. It provides more freedom, but some students just need more structure.
“There are probably some of our kids who would be more successful in a regular class and not in Innovations,” Fife said.
Monica Chase, teacher and counselor at South Campus, said some of her students have been bullied. She worries that some students might get lost and fall through the cracks.
“I definitely have concerns because they have come here from the main campus,” Chase said.
It’s an emotional transition for faculty at South Campus. Chase said teachers there are very passionate about their students. Some of their students are supporting themselves, living on their own and caring for younger siblings while battling anxiety, depression and suicide.
“I can’t even tell you, it makes me ball like a baby, I’m just so proud of these kids, I love them like my own kids, and now I’m going to cry,” Chase said.
With the move to the main campus, Chase won’t be teaching in the Innovations program next year. She said it will be hard being away from the South Campus students, but she will stay in contact with them.
“I may not be in the pod with you, but I’m going to be there at the school, come find me, if you need me I am there for you, I’m in your corner, I’ve got your back,” she said.
In the fall, Comadena will transition from being the dean of students at South Campus to the dean of students at Logan High. He assured his teachers that he will provide the same level of comfort that he already does.
“We also have some kids that have anxiety disorders, and do I know who those kids are? Yeah. Have I already told them that I will be your keystone? Yes,” Comadena said.
Sitting in his office, Comadena is surrounded by classic rock, rap and athlete posters. The likes of Led Zeppelin posters, Pink Floyd, Wiz Khalifa and Michael Jordan greet his students. Comadena’s bio on the South Campus website reads: “Chronological Age: 64, Mental Age: 18 Maybe?”
Chelsey Gensel, the South Campus office manager, opened up Comadena’s bottom desk drawer to reveal an impressive selection of chewing gum. She said students are welcome to stop in anytime and grab a piece. They will say they want a piece of gum, but what they really want is someone to talk to.
“He makes the kids feel comfortable,” Gensel said.
Throughout his interview, Comadena pointed to a post-it note on his printer. He reads the bottom number: 165. It’s the number of students who want to be at South Campus. Right now there are 96 students at South Campus, but there are a lot more who want to be there.
“What I get excited about, I don’t know who these people are,” Comadena said, pointing to the post-it. “Guess who's going to know them next year. Me.”
Closing South Campus will also get rid of a negative connotation, said Principal Auld. He said there is a perception that students at the alternative high school are there because they couldn’t handle Logan High.
“For some kids, that level of stigma is negative, they feel like they’re not smart, they feel like classes need to be dumbed down for them, they feel like they’re ill-prepared to take a difficult class,” Auld said.
He said research has shown that remedial classrooms tells students that they don’t have the skills to be in the same class as other students. But he said Innovations will have a positive connotation and students will feel valued.
“Until we have that collective mentality, there’s going to always be kids who struggle and feel like they’re left out, and we can’t afford it,” Auld said.
For some students at South Campus, however, moving back to the main campus isn’t something to look forward to.
Kevin Tepetate, a junior, said he can earn credits faster at South Campus and the people here are like a family.
“Over there it depends if you’re good looking or whatever, they have little tiny groups and here it’s just like everybody gets along with everybody, the teachers get along with the students too,” Tepetate said.
Barlos Miranda, also a junior, said he likes the people at South Campus better than when he was at Logan High.
“Over there, they’re just like, ‘Get out of here man,’” Miranda said.
Jiovanni Rodriguez, a sophomore, said students at Logan High just want to “start stuff.” He said he’s trying to get caught up on his credits and graduate, but that might change if he leaves South Campus.
“If I go back to Logan High, I’m probably going to be down on my credits and I ain’t trying to get that, you know, and here I go to class on the daily,” Rodriguez said. “You might see me wearing this and that, you know, but it’s all good.”
No one knows exactly what to expect with the first year of Innovations at Logan High, but teachers are hoping it provides the same level of support that they have strived for at South Campus.
“All I can say is I hope it’s a good thing,” Chase said.