You would never guess the young man had been considered for expulsion from middle school for displaying aggressive behavior with a teacher four years ago.
The teenager was pleasant, polite and professional during a brief interaction at New Vision Alternative School in Post Falls. He was concerned about his studies and an upcoming project.
He's on track to graduate high school and he's attending the Kootenai Technical Education Campus in Rathdrum.
“There were a lot of big life changes going on in his home and he was reacting to that in the wrong way,” said Mark Jones, the Post Falls School District's alternative-to-suspension coordinator. “He's a good kid. He just needed some extra guidance and engagement.”
That's at the core of the alternative to suspension and expulsion. Students are treated as responsible young adults and required to help others. Specifically, they contribute time and hard work to local nonprofits like the Post Falls Senior Center or the local food bank.
“Kids want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to contribute and you should see how they warm up to little old ladies and veterans who need their help,” said Jones. “It's about breaking the cycle for them with positive experiences in the program.”
Jones, who has headed the district's suspension and expulsion program since 2003, has helped hundreds of students get back on track. His efforts are appreciated by his fellow educators.
“Mark is a special, special guy,” said Jerry Keane, Post Falls School District Superintendent. “Mark helps us with kids who have a different view of the world. He has a super touch relating and connecting to kids who need different thoughts about their behavior.”
“He's a tremendous resource to the district and the community,” said Keane. “His work with the senior center and the community garden is really important.”
Before Jones worked with at-risk students, he was an insurance broker armed with a business degree.
“I wasn't happy,” he said. “I wanted something more. I had always been active with youth sports and coaching. I knew I wanted to do something impacting kids and making a difference in their lives.”
The decision to do something more meaningful with young people meant Jones needed additional education. He opted for Lewis-Clark State College and earned an interdisciplinary social science degree in 2006.
“Lewis-Clark was the perfect fit for me,” he said. “The instructors and the program really gave me the skills I was going to need. There were a lot of psychology classes and it was a great experience for me going back to school to earn a second degree.”
The majority of Jones' students are serving three to five day suspensions as a consequence for school violations with the majority being tobacco related and alternative expulsions for more serious offenses such as aggressive behavior and weapons, among others.
“The alternative to expulsion program allows kids to keep up on their credits and still graduate on time,” he said. “And for the short term suspension, it's much better to have the kids here in the program than sitting on the couch at home unsupervised. Kids need structure and purpose. They really respond to it.”
Jones doesn't believe kids are inherently bad or evil - or beyond hope.
“I don't give up on a kid, ever,” said Jones. “I just haven't had enough time to work with them. We can change the course of their lives.”
--Written by Marc Stewart, Director of Sponsored Content