Admitting he had a problem staying focused at Sonoraville High School, 17-year-old Mikey Ouellette enrolled in “alternative” school to get back on track for the semester.

“I was having a lot of difficulty staying on track and I was messing around with my buddies,” Ouellette said. “I needed a place that was quiet, where I could do my work, and do it at my own pace.”

Ouellette, who was unable to focus in a normal high school classroom setting, first learned of a new type of alternative school option known as Ombudsman through his teachers.

Earlier this school year, Gordon County Schools began a partnership with Ombudsman Educational Services to help students graduate from high school.
The program provides individual attention for middle school and high school students experiencing difficulties with attendance, academic skills or other challenges that have hindered their success in school.

Ever since enrolling in the Ombudsman program, Ouellette has been committed to his studies, and said he has even received some additional help in math (an area where he has struggled academically).

“I can finally focus on doing my work,” he said. “Before this, I was sleeping in all my classes and skipping school.”

Plus, it has helped him realize his goal of earning a high school diploma now.

“A diploma is necessary. Go ahead and get it. Don’t think about it; just do it and get it done with,” Ouellette said. “When I came here, I started to develop more of an idea: I’m definitely graduating.”

Ouellette plans on returning to Sonoraville High his senior year and graduating on time with his fellow classmates.

However, if he chose to stay there longer, Ombudsman officials say they can issue an accredited high school diploma to seniors, which is different from a General Education Diploma (GED).

Ombudsman: an alternative education program

Jamie Turner, operating manager of Ombudsman for Northwest Georgia, said the Ombudsman approach emphasizes self-esteem, discipline and academics.
“We try and do it from more of an academic standpoint, not a punitive one,” Turner said. “Giving them the tools to be successful, so we can service a wide range of students, including at risk, students with illness, teen moms and married couples.”

According to Jill Wallace, the center director at the Gordon County Ombudsman location, Ombudsman services offer a more holistic approach to educating students.

“We give them choices and guide them to make their own choices, and talk about life after school,” Wallace said.

Students are referred to the Ombudsman program, so they are still considered county school students. There are three full-time teachers, and at the largest capacity, there are 15 students per session, Turner said.

“We just have a different way of teaching students,” Turner said. “We offer technology rich program, individual work, where they can work at their own pace.”

According to Turner, 38 out of the 45 slots or seats for middle and high school students are currently filled.

The school meets Monday through Friday, offering three sessions each day with high schoolers starting at 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., middle schoolers from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and high schoolers returning from 2:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The Gordon County Ombudsman program is located at 80 Red Bud Road.

Visit www.ombudsman.com to learn more about the alternative school program that is offered at Gordon County Schools and at Calhoun City Schools.