‘A second chance to high school.’

March 10, 2022

‘A second chance to high school.’

Tiger Pride is a presentation of Shelby Public Schools in partnership with Oceana County Press.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

SHELBY — A newly-developed alternative program at Shelby High School helps students who may not have completed high school in a traditional classroom environment obtain their diplomas in a less intimidating atmosphere.

“Tiger Academy is an alternative program for students who weren’t having success in a traditional classroom for reasons that weren’t behavior-based or lack of trying,” said Jim Stapel who is a lead teacher of the program with Phil Fortier. “They just weren’t being successful; didn’t find the motivation; they were having levels of anxiety.”

The classroom size is much smaller than a traditional classroom setting. There are currently 10 students involved in the program offered for juniors and seniors. “We try to cap it around 12,” said Stapel, who instructs the English curriculum. 

Tiger Academy teachers Melissa Baker, Wes Davis, Jim Stapel and Phil Fortier.

“This is a spot for them to have more direction and more one-on-one help.”

Shelby High School Principal Mark Olmstead came up with the idea and named the program. “I think it speaks a lot to his leadership,” said Fortier. “Having a special program for the kids who struggle the most is not something a lot of districts have high up on their list.” 

The novel program is already showing success. Students who before rarely showed up for class are now attending Tiger Academy every day. 

“It’s a concept of alternative ed that we’re experimenting with and trying to figure out as we go,” said Fortier, who instructs the science curriculum.

There was a student who missed two years of high school, but now that he’s in Tiger Academy, he makes it to school every day.

Tiger Academy students stay in the same classroom all day instead of switching classrooms for each subject. “The way it works is we come to them instead of them coming to us,” explained Stapel. 

The classroom has a more relaxed vibe with comfortable couches, a microwave and other cozy touches that Stapel’s wife Misty acquired through second-hand purchases. 


“A lot of students have said, ‘I would not have made it without this program.’”

“It’s like they have formed their own little community in there,” said Fortier. “For kids that, at times, many of them may be disruptive in a normal classroom, now they kind of hold each other accountable with what they should be doing. That has always been an interesting dynamic. The biggest thing for me is to get to know those kids one-on-one.

“Those things are challenging to kids in a normal classroom, and when you get their defenses down in this Tiger Academy, they’re allowed to be their true self,” said Fortier.

Several students enrolled in Tiger Academy have serious roadblocks to their education that students in traditional classroom settings do not experience, such as having to hold down a job to support their families; poverty; legal issues; drug problems; having children of their own to take care of; and homelessness.

“We had a couple of them couch surfing for a little bit,” said Fortier.

“We had one student who went to school; then went to football; and then he’d go to work,” said Stapel.

Wes Davis and Melissa Baker also teach at Tiger Academy. 

“I hope I am making an impact on them as much as they’re impacting me,” said Baker. 

“I like that it’s an opportunity for both of us,” said Davis. “It’s an opportunity for growth — as a teacher and as students — for people who may not have had that chance before. Some people who needed an alternative way to express their learning.”

“They explain things very, very well,” said student Cesar Sanchez. “When I ask them a dumb question, they don’t make fun of me for it.”

“The teachers are very nice — I love that,” said student Jeremy Salazar. “They’re very helpful. I love the environment of the classroom. Everybody is nice to each other, and everybody likes each other. It’s a very uncommon bond that we have. Everybody is very cool in this classroom.”

“I like that there are not that many people in this,” said student Aaron Willis. “I don’t like crowds.” A normal sized classroom is intimidating for Willis. “And we have the coolest teachers,” he added.

Logan Nelson said he also thrives in the smaller class size. “There aren’t as many people in here, so it’s easier to do assignments. And the teachers help break it down more.”

“I think a lot of it has to do with their identity and their confidence and that they can have a chance of being successful,” said Fortier. “The messages of ‘you’re not good enough’ and ‘you’re dumb’ are enormous. Breaking down those barriers is part of what we do as well.”

Both lead teachers describe their roles with Tiger Academy as challenging yet rewarding. They have developed close relationships with their Tiger Academy students. 

The instructors use laughter and smiles to relate to the kids. “You better have a sense of humor when you walk through that door of Tiger Academy,” said Fortier.

“You have to have a good sense of humor to be with us,” said student Elizabeth Norris. “I’ve always had trouble with school and passing, and this is my first year in four years that I am passing all my classes. This classroom has made me realize I have more options than I thought I did.” 

“It’s like a second chance to high school,” said student Timothy Dukes.

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