CARBONDALE -- Student Tabetha Smith recently wrote a proposal detailing why she thinks Rebound, an alternative high school that serves hundreds of drop-out and at-risk students, is worth saving.
"If it wasn't for Rebound, I would've already lost hope," the 17-year-old wrote in the paper that she shared with the newspaper on Thursday, as the Carbondale-based school faces closure because of the state budget impasse.
"Let us have a second chance," her proposal continued. "For me and for students to come that no one else sees good in, give us our second chance ... This is some people’s only option, but this is not your only option."
Rebound serves about 225 students who have dropped out of traditional high schools, and about 85 at-risk students annually, said Sandy Snowden, the school’s program coordinator. About two-thirds of the students come from Carbondale and Murphysboro, and a third from Southern Illinois communities that are further out. There are no geographic restrictions, but students must have their own transportation.
If lawmakers don’t pass a state budget by May, Snowden said the school will not be open for the summer semester, which is scheduled to begin June 3. Snowden said she hopes that even if classes are canceled for the summer, Rebound can reopen in the fall. But the longer the state goes without a budget, the more uncertain Rebound's future becomes.
Rebound is a program of Carbondale Community High School, which provides administrative support and the building, but most of the program’s funding is from state and federal grants. This year, CCHS has provided additional funding as a stopgap measure to keep the doors open, but Superintendent Steve Murphy said the school cannot continue to afford to do that.
The school has received some of its federal money, as well two grants from the Illinois State Board of Education, one for young mothers and their children, pre-natal to birth, and the other for truancy prevention. Of the former program, Stephanie Brown, a parent educator, said staff members work with mothers, most of them in their teens and early 20s, so that they are able to focus on caring for their children without forsaking their own education.
While those dollars have been helpful in keeping the doors open, the grant funds are specific as to their usage, Snowden said. And two-thirds of the program’s funding for adult education, Rebound’s largest program area, comes from a roughly $170,000 grant from the Illinois Community College Board.
That money has not been provided to the school this fiscal year, and it remains to be seen whether a fiscal year 2017 budget will be in place by July 1.
Murphy said the school will begin a shutdown process if May passes without a state budget. He said the plan would address ways to help those close to earning their diploma finish their courses, and transition goals for those with more work to do.
“If a budget passes, this place will be open,” Murphy said. “On the other hand, if it doesn’t pass, this place will probably not be open. That’s the bottom line.”
Murphy said CCHS may look for another way to serve at-risk Carbondale students if Rebound must close, but he said that program would not be able to serve students from surrounding communities.
Many of the students who come to Rebound have dropped out of traditional high school, for a multitude of reasons, which include teen pregnancy, disciplinary issues, and health, mental health or substance abuse challenges.
Some, as Smith said was the case for her, have had difficulties flourishing in a traditional high school for social reasons. Smith, of Pinckneyville, said she was bullied beginning in junior high, and didn't have any friends. And because she felt as though she was ostracized and didn’t fit in, found herself giving up on school and not wanting to go in the mornings as she became older.
Some also come to Rebound because responsibilities at home remove their focus from school, said CCHS Principal Daniel Booth. For instance, some teens are caring for sick parents, or for their siblings, or working to help pay family bills, he said. That may have caused them to either drop-out or fall behind a little. Booth said many at-risk students are able to take those classes at Rebound and still walk across the stage with their traditional high school classmates on graduation day.
On Thursday, administrators offered tours of the school to media representatives, as well as state Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro. Bryant said she knows the importance of the school because her son attended classes there a few years ago, allowing him to graduate on time at Murphysboro High School. Bryant, the first person in her family to graduate from high school, said her son's experience gave her a deeper understanding of the importance of the school, and changed her perception about the students who attend there. By reputation, it is the "bad kids," she said, but while some students have struggled in various ways, their situations are almost always more complex than that.
Bryant said she remains hopeful the FY17 budget is completed by May. Short of that, Rebound may be out of options.
Even though Smith graduates in May -- a year ahead of schedule, she said that the school's closure would be a shame. She said that other younger students like her, who struggle in a traditional school, should be given the same opportunities she has had. After graduation, Smith said she plans to enroll in Rend Lake College, and aspires to be a teacher. She would like to return to Rebound or a place like it.
“This place makes some of the impossible possible,” she said.