Some 2 1/2 years ago, Monica Wilde skipped school one time too many and got thrown out. It looked as if she would never graduate.
"My mom talked to every teacher and counselor she could find. She said, `Isn't there any way she can stay at Payson? There must be some way to keep her out of that other school.' "That other school was Alternative High School, recently renamed Landmark High School. Wilde, 17, will get her diploma is June.
"I never would have graduated if I hadn't come here," she said.
The school was established in 1976 to help students who had trouble in regular programs, said Don Jones, principal.
"Some students have jobs and need a flexible schedule. Some students work better at home, so we assign work and send a tutor once a week. Some get lost in a larger school and start to skip, so they come here for more attention and smaller classes," he said. "There are family problems, and we have had a few teenage pregnancy and drug abuse cases. But what these kids have in common is they cannot succeed in regular schools."
Of Landmark's 200 students, 65 attend daily classes. The rest learn through independent study, night classes, partial-day attendance or tutoring. About a quarter of the seniors graduate every year.
"It may not sound like a great success record, but it is," Jones said. "Most students we get have doubts they can graduate. About 25 percent do, but the others stay in school a lot longer than they thought they would. It all helps.
"All we can offer the kids is a supportive environment and a chance to succeed."
One of the best things about Landmark is it doesn't give failing grades, Jones said.
"We only accept work that is C-quality or better. If work is not acceptable, the student has to do it again. The kids must master a concept before they can go on. They earn everything they get.
"Flexibility is the key. When you have students in the same math class studying addition and geometry, you know you have a flexible program."
Jones said teachers get close to their students. Landmark has a staff of six teachers, and class size averages around 11 students.
"We get to know our students pretty well. We give an entrance test to learn about a student's skills and motivations, then we keep testing to measure progress. If you give me the name of any student, I can tell you within a few minutes how he or she is doing.
"It's not my job to judge these kid's lives; it's my job to help them feel good about themselves and open them up to education."
Wilde said it is Landmark's flexibility and caring attitude she enjoys most.
"At Payson, the classes are 90 minutes long. Who can sit still for that long? Landmark's classes are 45 minutes. And if you walked into the Payson building, there would be a huge crowd. People would bump into you, ignore you or yell at you for being late.
"When I walk into Landmark, everyone says `Good morning.' Any time I feel like hugging Bob, my math teacher, I can. We are a family here."
In years past, the stigma of coming from an alternative high school has hurt students, said Wilde.
"We seem to have a reputation. They say everyone is tough and mean here. Before I went here, I looked down on the school, but now I wouldn't want to go anywhere else."
She said some employers are still wary of hiring students from the school.
"It might be easier to get a job if I were from Payson High, but I never would have learned as much."
Jones said the school's name was changed to help lift the stigma.
"Students who turn themselves around shouldn't have to explain the name `Alternative High School' on their resume for the rest of their lives."
Many graduates go on to technical college or join the armed forces, but most enter the job market, Jones said. Wilde is hoping for a scholarship to Utah Valley Community College.
"I want to be a social worker or a pediatric nurse. Or study advertising. That's a much different future than I would have had without a diploma. The kids who leave here without a diploma will probably end up serving fast food."
Wilde said she is ready for the community college homework.
"I always used to hate it. We set our own pace at Landmark, and I want to make sure I graduate, so I ask for it. Homework is a pain, but you feel so good when you finish it.
"I never knew how good accomplishment could make you feel."