A Unique Setting for Learning

by Leslie Hancock and Jim Bixby
Peoria Regional Learning Center

At PRLC, “at-risk” students can achieve academic advancement that was inconceivable in a traditional school environment.

In the fall of 2011, Peoria Regional Learning Center opened its doors to the high school students of Peoria County for the first time. Located in the unique setting of Wildlife Prairie Park, Peoria Regional Learning Center (PRLC) is a comprehensive high school for students who are at risk of not completing the academic requirements necessary for graduation. It seeks to prepare graduates to either enter higher education or join the workforce.

Peoria Regional Learning Center embraces students who have been identified as “at risk” for dropping out of school. In fact, some had already dropped out.

These students just did not fit in at their home high school. They may have a high propensity toward depression or anxiety, they might have been bullied, or they could have family problems. They fell through the cracks at their home high school because they simply felt lost and adrift in too large of an academic and social environment.

The students enrolled at Peoria Regional Learning Center describe the school’s overall atmosphere as being reminiscent of one big, happy, accepting and supportive family. They often remark that for the first time in their lives, they feel like they fit in and finally feel a sense of belonging.

Opportunities for Enrichment
The unique nature of Peoria Regional Learning Center is highlighted by class sizes of 15 or less students, individual instruction, tutorial support, extensive outdoor interactive learning, advanced environmental science, and a caring, sensitive, patient and understanding faculty—all of whom are state-certified to teach in their assigned curricular areas. Perhaps best of all is the omnipresence of a peaceful, serene environment amidst the prairie animals. The students enjoy hiking the trails Wildlife Prairie Park, as well as the opportunity to go fishing.

They have also become stewards of the park. As such, they are active participants in a range of projects: redeveloping and reconstructing the aviary display area; hosting and attending to Mike the Bison; assisting at Wildlife Scary Park, the Polar Express and the Olde English Faire; and helping with landscaping upgrades.

Also offered are enriching educational opportunities through special intersession classes. Here, students can elect to receive instruction in such diverse subjects as nutrition and healthy meal preparation, viewing and analyzing films, photography, geocaching, sewing, painting, origami, creative writing and poetry, and solving mysteries.

In science class, PRLC students constructed robotic devices allowing them to explore the underwater composition and activities of the park’s lakes. They are currently observing and recording the activities of birds as a part of a national grant.

The rich English curriculum includes a class in which students publish their own newspaper and yearbook, as well as a creative writing journal, Trace the Tracks, containing original works of art, poetry and short stories.

In addition, PRLC often features diverse guest speakers. The Nigerian ambassador to the United Nations, for example, spoke to the students and engaged them in an interactive art project. On Veterans Day, the 182nd Air National Guard provided a special presentation, complete with a hands-on demonstration of survival equipment. Students also have the opportunity to better understand our nation’s history and culture by going to the theater to view movies such as Lincoln and Selma.

Success for the Future
Students come to PRLC after being recommended by their home high school. If they are accepted and enrolled, a graduation plan is crafted that meets their home school’s requirements. Once the students complete their requirements, they graduate and receive a diploma from their home high school. The formal graduation ceremony is complete with robes and high-profile speakers, from Rep. Mike Unes and State’s Attorney Jerry Brady to Regional Superintendent Beth Derry and former Peoria Federation of Teachers President Bob Darling, to name a few. All have been standing-room only.

To date, PRLC has graduated 80 students. A high percentage of them have gone on to achieve success in higher education, vocational training and meaningful employment. PRLC graduates are currently enrolled and attending Illinois Central College, Western Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, Midwest Tech Institute, Robert Morris University and Concordia University, as well as cosmetology school, welding apprenticeship training and the U.S. Armed Services.

In support of this mission, PRLC has been adopted by the Rotary Club of Peoria-North. In addition to financial support, such as purchasing smartboards for all of the classrooms, the club has invited PRLC students to attend formal Rotary meetings as guests. They speak before the club and answer questions about their experience at PRLC, then talk about themselves and share their plans for the future. This has proven to be a tremendous experience in terms of personal growth and maturity.

The public is welcome to come out anytime during any school day and see for itself the learning that is taking place at PRLC. We are proud of our students and our school, and welcome your visit. iBi

Leslie Hancock is a language arts teacher and Jim Bixby is recruitment, enrollment and retention administrator at Peoria Regional Learning Center. For more information, visit peoriaregional.com.


Source URL: https://www.peoriamagazines.com/ibi/2015/aug/unique-setting-learning