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First student to graduate from SHAC program

Ashley Severson

Ashley Severson, a senior at West Fargo High School, has been enrolled in the school's Senior High Alternative Center since its inception during her junior year. She is the first to admit that without the SHAC program, she wouldn't have been able to finish high school.

The West Fargo High School SHAC program is designed to help at-risk students who have trouble fitting into a typical classroom setting. The program is limited to 15 to 20 students in a homeroom setting that gives them a place they can come for guidance and encouragement. The graduation coach becomes a mentor for the students. Students spend an average of two class periods a day in SHAC, depending on their schedule, with regular classes during the rest of the school day.

Ashley has had a tough life. Her parents separated when she was five years old. When she was ten, her father committed suicide. She now lives with her mother and stepfather. In a paper she wrote recently, she said that before getting involved with the SHAC program, she was always getting into trouble with her parents or causing trouble around town with her friends. But SHAC has helped to turn her life around.

Ashley shared her moving story during a recent presentation in front of the Metro Youth Commission. Her message had such an impact on the audience that she was asked to come back and speak at a Fargo-Moorhead Leadership event.

Ashley will be the first student to graduate from the SHAC program. In fact, she will graduate with extra credits. When she started the SHAC program, she only had 12 credits, but by pushing herself to complete online courses to make up classes she had previously failed, Ashley has surpassed the required 22 credits to quality for graduation, and has been able to maintain B's, C's, and even some A's in her classes.

"By the time I graduate, I'll have at least 24 credits. I'm the first to graduate out of the SHAC program and I want to set an example for students coming in each year. I want to prove to them that SHAC is a successful program and works," Ashley said in her speech. She plans on attending Minnesota State Community and Technical College, either for paralegal training or to become a computer programmer.

Ashley's graduation coach, Pam Raeszler, is amazed at how much progress Ashley has made over the past two years.

"She's come a long way," Raeszler said. "I am extremely proud of her."

Ashley says her family is planning a big party to celebrate her graduation. She will also be honored at a party with her friends on May 21, in the SHAC classroom.

"SHAC gives the students a sense of hope that they can accomplish great things," Raeszler said. "The program isn't for everyone. Some do better in the Community High School setting. It gives students another option."

A group of Canadian educators will be coming to West Fargo on May 8, to learn more about West Fargo High School's SHAC pilot program.