By Michelle Seeber
House may be a small community in eastern New Mexico, but it has a school that draws students from all across the state.
The school, known as The Learning Center at House High School, is for students who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to attend high school on a regular basis throughout the year.
Much of the time, it attracts students who have to work during the day, but sometimes it helps couples with early families, said Mark Runyan of House, who until 2003 was director of The Learning Center and principal at House High School.
“If (students are) in a situation where they feel they’re getting behind on their credits, this is a real low-pressure way to get a diploma,” Runyan said Thursday. “They aren’t judged, intimidated or embarrassed.”
Runyan said The Learning Center began as a pilot program several years ago, when the state wanted to study alternative ways of learning.
“It started out as a computerized program, but it wasn’t working that well,” he said. “It evolved into a program copied out of Utah. It’s now a paper-based program that enables students to earn a diploma so they can attend college.”
Included in the program are packets that students receive for research and reading or other studies. Each packet includes a test.
“It was set up as a paper program, because that seemed to be the best,” Runyan said. “It attracts students from all over the state — even as far away as Santa Fe.”
Tuition is minimal, he said, totaling $50 a year to pay for paperwork.
Shayla Morris, 18, and her husband, Will, 19, both of Ruidoso, said they received their high school diplomas through The Learning Center while Runyan was director there.
“I worked for a month and helped my parents at home (while studying through The Learning Center),” Shayla said. “I would go to school about once every 10 days, take a test and do some school work there. The school gave me curriculum to study — eight packets to a subject and a test. Then I’d be done with that credit.”
Now that she has her diploma, earned in March 2003, Shayla works with her husband at a ranch near Ruidoso, she said.
Will said he graduated from The Learning Center in May 2002.
“It was sure good to me,” he said, “because I needed to work and earn money and I didn’t have to stay in a building all day.”
While he was attending the school, Will worked as a horse trainer and broke horses.
“I think it’s a good place,” he said. “You have to be self-motivated to stay on top of your studies, but the teachers are good. It’s a good way to get an education while you work.”
Will said he attended the school for about a year — his senior year.
Previously he attended Broad Horizon School in Portales.
He said the House program comes complete with a graduation ceremony.
“They have caps and gowns at the school for you to choose from, and you get a picture taken in a cap and gown with a couple of teachers,” he said. “The principal (of House High School) signs the diploma, and they mail it to you.”
Runyan said students may graduate with the House High School senior class, if they want.
It also offers extra perks that most high schools don’t.
For example, Runyan said, it has a break room and a child play room, and the classes are set up in such a way that teachers can observe students’ body language, which helps determine whether they want to participate in discussions or ask questions.
Like most high schools, teachers at The Learning Center are certified, he said.
“Every state department official who has come to look at it has really liked it,” Runyan said.