Woodland TEAM High School student graduates a semester early

Luke Cook will join the military and pursue his dream of working in law enforcement

WOODLAND — Luke Cook was scheduled to graduate from TEAM High School, Woodland Public Schools’ alternative high school, in December in order to pursue his dream of working in law enforcement.

TEAM offers Woodland’s students a path to earning a high school diploma which accommodates each individuals’ life circumstances including full-time work, family responsibilities, or simply wanting the chance to finish high school early in order to get a jumpstart on their future.

TEAM High School in Woodland offers students an alternative path to earn their high school diploma. Photo courtesy of Woodland Public Schools
TEAM High School in Woodland offers students an alternative path to earn their high school diploma. Photo courtesy of Woodland Public Schools

TEAM Graduate Spotlight: Luke Cook

Cook enrolled at TEAM in order to earn his high school diploma a semester early and pursue his career plans of becoming a Portland police officer. He particularly appreciates the self-directed lesson plans TEAM’s students use to finish their diplomas. “You can move at your own pace at TEAM which helped learn at a faster rate,” Cook explained. “I loved all my teachers at Woodland High School, but I felt like the classes would often move slower than I wanted to.”

Cook initially enrolled in TEAM his freshman year after moving to Woodland from Oregon with his family. “I was homeschooled until high school, so TEAM’s less structured approach was more appealing than enrolling at a traditional school,” he said. “TEAM’s environment is much less stressful and allows you to create your own schedule with hours that work around your other responsibilities.”

Woodland TEAM High School student Luke Cook finished his diploma a semester early in order join the military and pursue his dream of a career in law enforcement. Photo courtesy of Woodland Public Schools
Woodland TEAM High School student Luke Cook finished his diploma a semester early in order join the military and pursue his dream of a career in law enforcement. Photo courtesy of Woodland Public Schools

Cook left TEAM to attend Woodland High School for a semester to earn foreign language credit before finishing his high school education at TEAM. His experience at both schools made him appreciate all that Woodland Public Schools offers the community. “I’ve really appreciated all the teachers I’ve had during my time in Woodland,” he said. “They’re amazing and they’re all dedicated and available to helping students succeed regardless of which school you attend.”

While enrolled at TEAM, Cook also took classes in criminal justice at Cascadia Technical Academy. “I’ve always had an interest in working in law enforcement, so when my mom discovered Cascadia’s program, I knew it was a great opportunity,” he said. “I started taking classes at Cascadia during my junior year, loved it, and went back to take additional courses this year, too.”

In addition to attending Cascadia, TEAM’s flexible hours and schedules gave Cook the opportunity to take part in the Clark County Sheriff Explorers program, a cooperative venture between the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Learning for Life. The Explorer Program offers youth between the ages of 15-1/2 and 21 the opportunity to observe the criminal justice system and make an informed career decision by assisting sheriffs in serving the community.

The Explorer Program noticed Luke had a knack for leadership and started giving him additional responsibilities beginning with teaching coursework to classes of 40-60 enrollees followed by a promotion to captain. “I started with the Explorers last year and it wasn’t long before they started assigning me lessons to learn and teach to my colleagues,” said Cook. “This year, I was promoted to captain where I direct teams of 40-50 explorers at any given time.”

Cook’s self-directed nature combined with a high level of self-discipline served him well as captain. “Managing a team is a lot of scheduling to ensure everyone is working hard and swapping tasks when necessary – time management is definitely key,” he said. “For me, it’s fun figuring out what happens next while also keeping an eye on everyone to make sure we’re all learning and enjoying the program.”

In order to achieve his career goals of becoming a police officer, Cook enlisted in the security division of the U.S. Air Force. The position offers him the ability to earn an Associates Degree while he serves his tour of duty starting in February 2019. “In the Air Force, I will get a lot more leadership experience, earn my Associates Degree, and have my remaining undergraduate work paid for which will all help me get to work in law enforcement,” he said. “I really enjoy structure and I think the military will play to that strength; I’m only little nervous because I’m actually really excited.”

TEAM enabled Cook to start pursuing his career earlier than traditional school options and he recommends the school for those who want to get started early on their career plans. “You can truly get ahead if you push yourself at TEAM,” he said. “Although it requires a lot of discipline not to get distracted, if you stay focused, you will definitely make a lot of progress.”

An alternative to “alternative high schools”

The staff of TEAM works to help people think of alternative high schools differently. “Many people hear ‘alternative school’ and think it’s a place for ‘troubled’ kids and we want to change that perception,” said Liz Vallaire, TEAM’s Math and Science teacher. “We don’t have ‘typical’ students – we have high-achieving students, students with life responsibilities, and students with life circumstances that make this approach to learning a better fit.”

“TEAM is great for students because we meet students where they are academically and offer a myriad of supports and flexibility with classes to help students succeed,” said Jill Domingo, TEAM’s Social Studies and English Teacher. “By having the time to work with students one-on-one, they share information about their work, hobbies, and home life, and I feel like that knowledge helps me be a better teacher by adjusting my instruction to fit their needs and learning styles.”

Cook’s teachers still remember the first time they met him. “I knew he was special – he is an incredibly driven, motivated, respectful, thoughtful and brilliant young person,” said Vallaire. “Luke works hard but has fun doing it – he is easy to talk to and absolutely hilarious which made him a favorite for all his peers.”

Domingo agrees with Vallaire. “From his first day at TEAM, Luke made an impression with how polite, well-spoken and driven he is,” she said. “His hard work and dedication made him stand out especially when he was constantly exceeding TEAM’s performance standards by going above and beyond in his schoolwork.”

Vallaire points to TEAM’s flexibility as the reason for the program’s success. “For some students, the rigid schedule of traditional school feels oppressive which can lead to issues with truancy, discipline or behavior,” she said. “At TEAM, students can be and feel independent by making their own schedules while still having support from teachers and staff when they need it.”

With a relatively small enrollment, TEAM’s maximum enrollment is 100 students, the program takes on a different feeling than larger schools. “We feel like a family since we all get to know each other really well, and through that we are able to build trusting relationships through all the one-on-one time we have with each student,” said Vallaire. “I believe those relationships are often part of what keeps a lot of students motivated to succeed; they know that their families, their teachers, and their peers are also invested in their success.”

Preparation through partnership

Leslie Mohlman, Community, Family, Student Resource coordinator for Woodland Public Schools, connects local organizations with TEAM High School to help support students. “We strive to introduce students to all the resources their different lifestyles might need,” she explained. “In addition to resources that specialize in teen support such as housing, medical, and mental health, we also reach out to local resources based in Woodland, too.”

Mohlman specifically targets resources offering teen support to make it easier for kids who need help to find it. “Teens don’t always trust adults so the main objective is to build trust and relationships so students know they can find help at school,” she said. “Local resources are more than willing to become reach kids by bringing awareness of social problems that can affect people of all ages such as finding affordable housing; dealing with depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide or addiction; and concerns just finding food.”

TEAM also partners with local community organizations to offer more learning opportunities for students. A recent partnership with the Woodland Public Library allowed students to take home free books. “Some of our love reading and were so excited to have free books they could take home and keep,” said Vallaire. “I placed donation boxes in all of our other schools, asking employees to donate books, and, now, TEAM High School has a small library of nearly 100 books students can borrow or keep.”

Learn more including how to team up with TEAM?

To learn more about TEAM High School, how to enroll, or how your organization can partner with Woodland Public Schools, visit the TEAM website at www.woodlandschools.org/team.

Learn about Woodland Public Schools’ Family and Community Resource Center by visiting www.woodlandschools.org and selecting “Family & Community Resource Center” from the drop-down Menu.

To learn more about the other programs discussed in this article, you can visit their websites:

Information provided by Woodland Public Schools.

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