The Dawsonville campus of the expansive Mountain Education Charter High School celebrated its second anniversary at the end of October.
A completely separate school system from Dawson County Schools, MECHS hosts its own unique educational experience four days a week from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. inside the Hightower Academy building off Hwy. 9 N.
In the past two years, MECHS has seen an explosion of participation, beginning with only 11 students in 2016 and peaking at more than 80 students before the 2018 spring graduation.
“We are essentially one high school but we are 16 different sites scattered all over north Georgia,” said site manager Shannon Gable.
The high school, which opened its doors 25 years ago, has overseen 3,600 graduates and has a current enrollment of more than 2,000 students across north Georgia who sought out the nontraditional school for its small class sizes, dual enrollment opportunities and its self-paced instruction.
“Some work full-time. Some already have families. Some have family obligations during the day that prevents them from attending traditional school so there’s different types of barriers that keep them from going to school during the day and that’s why they come here with us,” said Gable.
Unlike traditional school, Mountain Ed operates four days a week from 4 to 9 p.m. and allows for flexible attendance and self-paced learning as students work on three modules at one time.
“I love it,” said freshman Katlyn Wimpui. “They care more. They really care.”
Wimpui was struggling in the traditional school setting and a friend recommended she attend Mountain Ed in order to get the one-on-one attention from her teachers she felt she needed to stay on track to graduate.
“If you need help the teacher literally gets a chair and puts it beside you and they help you,” said Wimpui. “If you’re struggling at all, then Mountain Ed is where you need to go.”
Currently, the Dawsonville MECHS site has approximately 70 actively enrolled students after sending off 20 graduates in May 2018.
“I think it’s a really positive alternative for students, mine in particular, who did not fit into the traditional school setting,” said Deborah Huggard. “She wasn’t happy there. It’s more flexible. It gives the students more independence, more of a feeling of power over their own education and their future.”
Huggard, whose daughter attends Mountain Ed, is also in charge of technology at the Dawsonville site and has seen firsthand as both a parent and a faculty member how the school has impacted its students.
“I think the kids really feel like everyone that works at Mountain Ed is on their side, is there for them. And it’s sometimes an opposite feeling at day school, not by anybody’s fault but it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers at day school,” said Huggard. “It’s so much smaller and so much more personal and there is so much focus on the whole child’s needs. Really I think teachers feel it and students feel that too.”
“We always make a point – Mr. Gable and I – being out front and greeting them by name when they come in,” said site manager Anita Cox who loves to greet all of the Mountain Ed students and make them feel welcome.
Huggard, who is in the school every Monday through Thursday, said she has seen how students excel academically and socially due to the personal interactions with the site’s teachers and faculty.
“A lot of these kids need that connection and that’s why they thrive here,” said Huggard.
She has also seen how her daughter has taken command of her own education. At only 16 years old, she has five college courses under her belt and is on track to graduate with her associate’s degree when she receives her high school diploma, Huggard said.
Mountain Ed offers dual enrollment opportunities with the University of North Georgia and Lanier Tech, as well as work based learning credit for students who work full or part time jobs during the day.
Dinner is also provided at 7 p.m. each night by local restaurants in the community who have partnered with the school.
Local business leaders and organizations have also played an important role as they have volunteered their time to serve as guest speakers at the school and have offered up their places of business as field trip sites.
“We just appreciate the support we’ve had from the community since we’ve opened,” Gable said.