According to a quote by Carl Sandburg, “Nothing happens unless first, we dream.” A group of committed stakeholders and educators had a dream that became a recommendation in 2018 to create an alternative program to help Derby High School students achieve success in their educational endeavors. Input was received from students, families, staff and community members through committee discussions, strategic plans and surveys. In 2019, the Board of Education approved plans to start construction on a storm shelter that would be used to house an alternative program. In spite of the pandemic and challenges, this dream has become a reality in 2021 as the Panther Learning Center has recently started serving Derby High School students.

Alternative programs have been around for quite some time to help students that were struggling in a traditional educational setting. Through time, alternative or non-traditional programs have encompassed a much broader scope through the addition of support services and resources to meet diverse student needs, while supporting the foundation of learning. Some students connect in a different manner through a “non-traditional” or more personalized approach to address their needs. When barriers can be mitigated or removed, students will engage in their education in a more productive and meaningful manner, which will lead to success.

The Panther Learning Center offers online courses for credit recovery, course acceleration, individualized student programming, college/career support and advisement, as well as housing the WSU Tech Health Science college credit courses, which includes Certified Nursing Assistant and Phlebotomy courses for certification. The Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas also has an office onsite to provide school based therapy as well as other mental health supports and services more conveniently to students and families. Extended opportunities are being planned for extending programs through an extension of the school day and during the summer. This is a phenomenal opportunity for our students and community.

The mission of Derby Public Schools is to create a tomorrow that is better than today by ensuring all students continually grow and learn. The Panther Learning Center is an example of a collaborative effort that exemplifies our mission to all of our students. Together, we will continue to grow, develop programs and support as needed to provide our students that pathway to success.

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