By: Abigail Becker
Students in the Madison area may get disconnected from their education for a variety of reasons: an unstable home life, kids of their own or maybe a traditional school setting just isn’t the right fit.
Operation Fresh Start is a nonprofit organization that serves as a form of alternative education for students who did not find success in traditional forms of schooling, such as Madison’s public schools. Students work on either a construction or conservation team three days of the week and attend a day of class one day per week, working their way to a high school diploma or a GED.
From 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Arianna Goodwin is an Operation Fresh Start student seeking her GED and looking to be a Certified Nursing Assistant at a local hospital. But outside of these hours, Goodwin transitions to her responsibilities as a mother of two.
Goodwin, 26, has been attending OFS for the past 14 months. She dropped out of LaFollette High School after she had her first child as a teenager. Her daughter is now 10-years-old and her son is 5-years-old.
At her former high school, she says she did not have problems, received adequate help and always finished her homework before she left school for the day.
“I had (my children) at a young age, and I didn’t have that support for childcare to finish high school,” Goodwin says. “That’s why I dropped out.”
Goodwin applied to the program twice and was accepted on her second time.
“I wasn’t really doing anything,” Goodwin says. “I was just wasting my life basically.”
Since her personal life has become more stable, Goodwin says she finds the 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. OFS schedule and her school responsibilities manageable.
“Once I get home, I start cooking instantly, have them in bed at 9 p.m., and I’m asleep by 10 p.m.,” Goodwin says.
At OFS, Goodwin is on a conservation team and spends three of the four required days chopping down trees, removing invasive species and making burn piles. One day a week is spent doing coursework, something Goodwin would like to see more of in the program.
In the morning, she starts all over again.
Alex Lochmann, 18, says he failed his classes because he gave up on doing his homework.
“Growing up, I always liked school, but my home life didn’t make it easy for me to be able to keep up with the homework, and so I fell behind,” Lochmann says.
Lochmann attended Waunakee High School but transferred to West High School when problems at home led him to move into a group home. He attended West for the first three-quarters of his junior year and then moved to Middleton High School.
He was also involved with the Gateway to College Program, another alternative college program, but says at the time he was not ready to apply himself. Lochmann enrolled in OFS after he moved in with his uncle this past summer, who had also attended the program and recommended it.
Lochmann was counting change for a soda to drink while he worked on an essay, saying the sugar helps him with his work.
“I’ve never been really one of those people that thrive in the classroom…I can do well in it, but I prefer hands on stuff,” Lochmann says.
Lochmann also works on a conservation team and says he enjoys the physical work and diversity of each work day.
“Coming here compared to the Gateway to College Program and even high school, it’s so much better, and it’s helped me to get the motivation to do it,” Lochmann says.
Lochmann says he plans to move out to California with his aunt and uncle, attend college and perhaps pursue a job in construction.
Matthew Delacerna is 17-years-old and joined OFS last June. He attended East High School until his probation officer “threatened to lock me up because I wasn’t good.”
Delacerna switched to an alternative program at Arrow but “caught a charge” and is now on county as well as state probation. He attended East High School but had few good words to say.
“I despised East,” Delacerna says. “I hated East with a passion, I can’t even lie. It was, I don’t know, it was just bad.”
Delacerna cited too many students in the classroom, too much homework and not enough individual help from teachers. He made a few strong, personal relationship with teachers but always refused to do homework outside of the school day.
He described his perception of the attitude of teachers at East High School as “either pass or fail, either do good or don’t, I don’t care about your outside life.”
He is familiar with suspension, both in and outside of school and acknowledges there were reasons.
“I’m not going to be like oh, you shouldn’t have suspended me,” Delacerna says. “I know why you suspended me, and it’s a good reason.”
“Some days were just my off days,” he added.
As a 16-year-old, Delacerna just made the age cut-off at OFS and was accepted the first time he applied. He won’t be able to receive his diploma until he is 18-years-old and plans to move back to his home state of California the same week he graduates.
While few 16-year-olds are accepted into the program, Education Manager Kelly Otto says his testing was “through the roof.”
After Delacerna finishes the program, he says he plans to join his family in California and will likely work at the same hospital where his mom works. He hopes to attend college for criminology and go into the medical field.