By JILL PERRY
Charesse and Albie, both 17 years old, are just two of the many kids who stop going to high school for one reason or another.
They didn’t enjoy the people they were surrounded by, the classes, or the teachers. They felt no one gave them any special attention. Neither participated much in class or extra curricular activities. Suddenly they stopped going to school. No one seemed to care, no one seemed to notice.
“I just didn’t like the school and I didn’t like the people,” Albie said.
After both Charesse and Albie missed too many days of class, the school had no other choice but to refer them to Independence High School, an alternative school for students in Provo from seventh to twelfth grade.
Most people see IHS as different and have many skewed perceptions about the kind of people found at the school, but it is “designed to be different” because the focus of the school is primarily on working with the students.
Independence spent time with Charesse and Albie and found out what the problems were and developed goals for the students to work toward.
Charesse and Albie are now going to class at IHS, they are participating in sports and have plans to graduate with a high school diploma next May.
Independence High School is made for students who have dropped out or have been kicked out of their regular schools for different reasons such as truancy, drugs, alcohol, gang problems, vandalism, fighting or any other misbehavior.
“At Independence, there is no such thing as a failure or dropout—there are only options,” said Greg Hudnell, principal of Independence High School.
Hudnell or “Hud” as most of his students call him, loves the kids who attend his school.
“I don’t have a bad kid in my school. Some of the kids are doing bad things or making bad decisions, but no bad kids,” Hudnell said.
Hudnell has been principal of IHS ever since it began 15 years ago as Provo Vocational High. The class had 30 students, and it was held in a trailer outside of Provo High School.
“Having the class there was problematic for us,” Hudnell said. “My kids were always blamed for all the vandalism and problems at Provo High –even if they didn’t do it.”
Hudnell switched buildings three times until the community and school board finally found a place to locate the school for at-risk-kids in Provo.
Independence now has a new building on 636 N. Independence Ave. The size of the school is smaller than a regular high school with enrollment at 300.
“Everyone is friends with everyone,” said Kristy, a 1997 graduate of IHS.
Most students will agree with Kristy that the size of the school makes a big difference. It is so small, you have no choice but to make friends, Kristy said.
“Most of the time the kids are at the same level emotionally, financially and academically,” Hudnell said. “They are not threatened or intimidated.”
“It seems like the faculty care more,” Albie said. “The other schools are just there for the money they get.”
Independence High School takes students from Timpview, Provo, Dixon and Farrer schools.
“We don’t set limits to the kids,” Hudnell said. “I have students that wear nothing but black, girls with shaved heads, kids that have their entire bodies pierced or tattooed, kids involved with drugs and gangs and everything else under the sun.”
Hudnell said that when the students are referred to him they come with a file that is three inches thick of everything the kid has done wrong since first grade.
“I don’t look at that file, I don’t care about it,” Hudnell said. “When that kid walks through that front door they are a brand new person with a brand new opportunity and brand new chance to succeed, and I build around that opportunity.”
All the students are interviewed by Hudnell where he applies a Student Educational Occupational Plan for the students. He asks them what their goals are and works out a plan for them to graduate.
“We want a well-rounded child,” Hudnell said. “Our goal is for the kids to be well-rounded enough so when they graduate they are an asset to society.”
Four areas of emphasis at the school are: competency-based course work, technology, performing arts and community service. A wide range of activities, both in and out of class, reinforce the curriculum.
“Once a month I try to have something fun for the kids,” Hudnell said. “Last year we closed school for the day and rented the movie theater to watch Independence Day. The kids had a blast.”
Hudnell said they try to use a lot of application for the students, and give them opportunities to build unity.
This summer IHS is constructing a ropes course for the students to learn about teamwork, unity and cooperation.
The school also has an athletic department with softball, volleyball, basketball, junior ROTC program, rifle team, cheerleading squad, drama department and student council.
Independence High School is credited as a special school, and the kids get a high school diploma that’s accepted by universities, colleges and junior classes.
“It’s not the same level because we don’t offer some of the AP courses,” Hudnell said. “The kids are usually so far behind we have to do remediation courses.”
“I don’t patsy my students, we have high expectations,” Hudnell said. “They work their tails off, and when they graduate they deserve it.”
Each year the seniors take a trip to Washington D.C. to visit and learn about the history of our nation.
“We had to write in our journals that week about our experiences there,” Kristy said.
“I loved the trip to D.C.,” Greg said. “We went during when the cherry blossoms were out, and my favorite building was the cathedral.”
Although the kids are very involved in service around the community and are learning through application, they still have many rules they must follow.
“Going to Independence is a privilege — the kids get five strikes and then they’re out,” Hudnell said.”I’m tough, and my kids know it. There are three words that I use with my kids: Greg is firm, fair and consistent.”
Hudnell said that his job is not light, and it’s his responsibility that his students get an education.
“I don’t baby-sit, I educate,” Hudnell said.
Hudnell said they have specialists to help with abuse and drug and alcohol problems. Hudnell said that he will always talk things out with his students before suspending them.
“We get what the other schools kick out, and we are the last stop,” Hudnell said. “I’ll do everything I can because I know if I kick a kid out it’s the end of the road.”