Before Russell Herbert came to Provo Vocational High School, failing grades were a common sight on his report cards. He was doing well even to make it to school, let alone get passing grades.
But that has all changed for Herbert, a senior who now maintains a B average. He has learned that it isn't impossible to attend school daily and is looking forward to going to college, something that was once an "impossible dream.""I knew it was my last chance to make it," he said. "That was good incentive to stay straight."
It's still not easy for Herbert to stay out of trouble, but he is making progress, school officials say.
The story is the same for many of Herbert's classmates. They actually come to school because it is fun and exciting.
"They make learning fun here," said Jason Pino, a sophomore. "There are smaller classes so the teachers get around to you more. It's like a big family."
Shanna Paxton, a junior, agreed. "At this high school nobody is better than anyone else."
Students attending the school, identified as high-risk students after struggling academically or with attendance, are referred from both Provo High or Timpview High School. Most want to attend there anyway, said Greg Hudnall, school principal.
Many students also come from single-parent families or other environments that have not been healthy, he said. "Here everyone has struggled. Everyone is the same."
For lack of a better term, the school is referred to as Provo Vocational High School, even though it really isn't a vocational school. Hudnall said the vocational title is at least better than being called the alternative high school.
The school was recently accredited by the Northwestern Accreditation Association and received the highest rating possible. That will bring even more credibility to the school, he said.
Now a student's diploma will be accepted by the military and any college instead of only a select few. Scholarships will also be more readily available.
Students at the Provo Vocational High School have the same schedule and same requirements as the other Provo high schools and operate under a closed campus policy. The school is housed in a small two-story building on Fifth South and Third West in Provo.
The school's curriculum is like any other public high school with classes in math, science, history, English, art, home economics, physical education and extended business classes.
Last year about 80 students were continuously enrolled in the program. Twenty-nine of the 33 seniors received diplomas. Of those students, 10 went on to college and 28 are working full- or part-time.
This year the school is at full capacity with 143 students. Class size is limited to about 15 students and a teacher and aide to give students a better chance for individual help.
Students are in classes with others on the same learning level, and no homework is ever assigned. All work is done in class so students can ask for help if needed.
While the average attendance for students at their previous schools is 25 percent, the vocational high school has 84 percent attendance, Hudnall said.
In an attempt to knock down barriers, students refer to Hudnall and the other 22 part-time teachers by their first names. Hudnall also has an open-door policy allowing students to come into his office at any time.
If rules are broken at the school, tough disciplinary action is taken. "We don't put up with the nonsense," Hudnall said. If students are caught with drugs, they are arrested and charged in court and put on probation at school. If it happens a second time, they are expelled.
The school permits smoke breaks in an outside covered patio.
"That way you don't have to sluff to smoke," said Lori Sholl, a junior.
Most students have smoked four or five years on the average, Hudnall said. "I don't approve, but that's their values and we want to keep them on campus. There's a need for a school like this. We are meeting the needs of kids in our society."
The school also has a no swearing policy. To prevent vandalism, Hudnall offers the students $100 for a school party each month if no vandalism occurs.
A mural of the school's mascot, the lion, is evidence that school spirit is big. The school has a yearbook and Key Club to get students involved.
Hudnall said he hopes the district will build a new mini-high school in the near future and rename it in some way to portray what the school really is.
"My philosophy is if we can help them become socially accepted, we help society because we will not have to pay unemployment, welfare and maybe even the costs of keeping a person in jail," Hudnall said. "We provide them with an opportunity to be successful. If they were not here, I believe we would have 150 kids on the street."