Weather Forecast


'Failure is not an option': Perham High School students REACH for life-long success

Joe Castillo, Destannie Montalvo, Hector Salinas, and Ana Lopez, left to right, recently led a class celebration of Mexican Heritage Month for the rest of their REACH classmates, complete with treats. “It was great to see them want to present this and take the leadership role in front of their peers,” said Erin Anderson, the school activities director and a member of the REACH team. Submitted photo

A new elective at Perham High School, called REACH, is based on one essential philosophy: failure is not an option.

Failure in what, one might ask? The short answer is, life.

REACH stands for relationships, education, accountability, character and hard work. Each of these is focused on in the REACH classroom. REACH got its start in southern Minnesota, at the Hutchinson School District, as a voluntary, in-school program designed to assist students “who may need support academically, socially, and/or emotionally.”

The program expanded into Perham after high school Principal Ehren Zimmerman learned of it at a conference. He discussed REACH with school board members, who agreed to have it added to the schedule. Soon after, a team was formed to develop the local program.

After a day spent observing REACH in Hutchinson, the Perham team members got to work on setting up a plan of their own.

“We took their (Hutchinson’s) framework and divided it down,” explained Courtney Rooney, a social worker and one of the REACH program developers. “When the students do some self-goals, we look at an academic goal, a social/emotional goal, and a personal-best goal. That’s where we made it our own.”

“If they walk out of there positive about who they are, have a work ethic, are respectful and responsible, they’re going to knock it out of the park out there,” said Zimmerman. “There’s a lot of kids in that room right now who are doing exceptional stuff, outside of here, and we would never know.”

Unfortunately, the new program has some unflattering misconceptions to contend with.

“It’s not a disciplinary dumping-ground,” said Zimmerman. “Teachers can’t say ‘Get down to the REACH room,’” Superintendent Mitch Anderson added. “It’s not your grandma’s study hall, either. REACH, at its core, is about success for our students. It’s that failure is not an option.”

Students can be referred to REACH by teachers, parents or their friends, but it is still a voluntary class.

“If a kid is struggling on probation or a 4.0 athlete who has some home stuff going on … we have a wide variety of kids,” said Rooney of the 32 students who are in REACH this first trimester. “They’re coming from all different backgrounds, lifestyles, and ethnic backgrounds and GPAs. Everything’s so different. They get thrown into a room, but it’s amazing how they all kind of gel together at some point.”

Alyssa Graphenteen and Molly Wooten, two students in REACH, are perfect examples. Both young women said they never would have spoken to the other before they joined the class.

“The first day, I was like, ‘I don’t talk to any of these people,’ but now I do,” said Wooten. “Now, it’s like I have a new, big class of friends.”

Joe Castillo said he appreciates having an extra opportunity to do classwork.

“I want to get into a really good college, and this class is helping a lot,” he said. “I think it’s a really great class. They keep you on track. If you’re missing assignments and you don’t contact the teacher … one of them will do it. So you don’t ever fall behind.”

Wooten agreed, saying it’s a great feeling to have all of her work done when it’s asked for in other classes.

The REACH group agreed that misunderstandings about who the class is intended for are irritating. Being thought of as “druggies,” “weirdos” and “trouble kids” were just a few of the names they mentioned.

“It really bothers me when other students judge everyone in this class,” said Wooten. “We don’t have it all figured out yet, but we have a team that’s very engaged,” said Zimmerman. “It’s been fun.”

More information about REACH is available by contacting the high school.

By Elizabeth Huwe, Perham Focus