Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Karly Dennis (center) prays at the end of class Thursday, May 1, 2014, at The Crossing. (J. Tyler Klassen / The Elkhart Truth)

Kasey Bute (right) assembles pallets at The Crossing on Thursday, May 1, 2014. Teacher Erin Palladay is at left rear. (J. Tyler Klassen / The Elkhart Truth)

Dwight Markham (left) and Andrew Shumaker sweep up sawdust in front of the Crossing's Wood-1Mizer Thursday, May 1, 2014. The are students in The Crossing school. (J. Tyler Klassen / The Elkhart Truth)

Crossing teacher Erin Palladay throws a piece cut from a pallet into a bin at the school Thursday, May 1, 2014. (J. Tyler Klassen / The Elkhart Truth)

The Crossing director Rob Staley talks with a reporter Thursday, May 1, 2014 in the school's work center. (J. Tyler Klassen / The Elkhart Truth)

Crossing teacher Erin Palladay cuts a pallet piece at the school Thursday, May 1, 2014. (J. Tyler Klassen / The Elkhart Truth)

Andrew Shumaker removes crooked screws from pallets at The Crossing on Thursday, May 1, 2014. (J. Tyler Klassen / The Elkhart Truth)

The wood pile on The Crossing property Thursday, May 1, 2014. (J. Tyler Klassen / The Elkhart Truth)
Alternative school plans five new locations, closes two

Posted on May 2, 2014 at 6:35 p.m.

At this high school, bad behavior or sloppy school work isn't likely to get you kicked out.

But if it does, you're always welcome back. 

The Crossing Educational Center, an alternative high school based in Elkhart County, aims to reach kids who just can't — or won't — make it in a regular school.

The staff help kids graduate, but a big focus at The Crossing is on work training and on faith. 

Crossing students spend part of the day in a classroom before heading to work.

They do internships, participate in a job team, or work at a training center in Goshen where students run several micro-businesses. Students aren't paid for their work, but they do get high school credit and invaluable skills, according to Crossing director Rob Staley.

Sprinkled throughout their school day is prayer, discussion about God and the Bible, and spiritual guidance from adults on staff. 

It's not a typical high school model, but it seems to be working. Most of the students who come to The Crossing eventually get a diploma, Staley said, and most get jobs.

New locations

The Crossing is opening four campuses this summer and maybe a fifth. New locations will be in Plymouth, Knox and two in Indianapolis. 

Staley is also working on a Gary campus but said it's not a sure thing yet.

As they open five new locations, The Crossing is also closing two: South Bend and Pierceton. 

The Pierceton school will still exist but Crossing staff won't be there anymore, Staley said. And the South Bend school is being consolidated with another South Bend Crossing.

Other happenings

Earlier this year, The Crossing ended its partnership with South Bend Community Schools. Staley said that's because South Bend's school board barely approved the partnership each year by a 4-3 vote. 

The school corporation and The Crossing mutually agreed to part ways this year, he said.

The Crossing also had a school in Middlebury from 2005 to 2009. That school closed when Middlebury Community Schools started its own alternative junior/senior high school. 

Middlebury Superintendent Jane Allen said that change was made because of funding. Some Middlebury students still go to The Crossing for the job training program.

Other Crossing schools that have opened and closed in Elkhart County didn't really close, Staley said. They simply moved to another location.

Now, Elkhart County Crossings include one in Elkhart, one in Nappanee and a micro-business center in Goshen.

Why 'micro-business?'

Staley compares The Crossing's micro-business operation to a building trades class at a traditional high school. 

Giving students the opportunity to get their hands dirty chopping down trees, fixing cars and making pallets keeps them engaged and coming back to school every day, he said.

They also earn certifications and pick up "soft skills" like showing up on time, following rules and doing their best work.

Micro-businesses include tree service, wood working and auto tech. Students sell products they make, which include firewood, hardwood and custom pallets, to area businesses. 

The students make about $200,000 a year, Staley said, and that money is used to keep the business operating.

Who goes there?

The Crossing is a private school that serves public school kids. Wa-Nee, Jimtown and Elkhart schools allow their struggling students to transfer to The Crossing, bumping tuition money from the state on to The Crossing when kids are there the whole day.

Other students come from other school corporations for just the job training portion of the day, Staley said and The Crossing does not receive tuition money for those kids.

The Crossing is a nonprofit organization and gets about $250,000 per year in grants and donations. Eventually the goal is to totally support the organization on the money that the micro-businesses bring in, Staley said.

He believes the organization is successful because of the favor of God. That's what keeps kids safe as they work with heavy machinery and chainsaws, he said, and it's also what keeps kids in the program until graduation.

"We have miracles here, not only in safety, but also in changed lives," Staley said. 

Follow reporter Lydia Sheaks on Twitter at @LydiaSheaks