McLeod West students' tough choice: Where to go next yearby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
It's that time of year for parents and students across Minnesota to decide whether or not to stay in their current school next year or open-enroll somewhere else.
But in south-central Minnesota, students in the McLeod West district have no choice. They have to pick a new school because McLeod is closing.
St. Paul, Minn. — It's been that kind of year for the students, as represented by Molly Geier's jacket. The sophomore's pins and varsity letters for sports and academics are impressive, but you quickly notice they're from three schools.
McLeod West is so broke, it can't offer the sports Geier wants to take. So last fall, she ran cross country for Glencoe-Silver Lake (GSL); this spring she'll run track for Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop (GFW).
"This [past] fall I got on a bus, went over to GFW, got back on a bus, went back to McLeod West for two hours," noted Geier. "Then I got back on a van to go over to GSL, and now I'm going to be doing that for track."
And Geier isn't alone. All high schoolers do mornings at G.F.W., then return to McLeod West for two afternoon classes. Part of McLeod's building was condemned this year - leaving not enough room for everyone.
Sometimes it's hard to concentrate, says Sophomore Jenna Schwing.
"It feels like the end of the day when you leave G.F.W.," she noted. "You get to go home, but surprise. Two more hours."
Such is life for the students of McLeod West during the district's final year.
School leaders said the district would have to close if a referendum failed in November - and failed it did.
So now, a plan working its way through the approval process would split the district between three neighboring districts. But that's a decision to be ironed out on paper. The students' decision - where to go next year - is much more personal.
Thirteen McLeod students recently visited Minnesota Public Radio's studios in St. Paul. Sitting in a half-circle in the UBS Forum, they revealed their choices: Six will go to G.F.W.; three will go to GSL; two are undecided; and the final two are seniors who will be among the last conferees of a McLeod West diploma.
The students all say they're choosing based on where their friends plan to go, not on any scale of which school is better academically.
Sophomore Dylan Schwartz is not quick to make friends, he says, and was bullied at a previous school before coming to McLeod in the third grade.
"When I came to McLeod West, it was kind of like a revolution to my life because I actually made some friends," he said.
When asked if he thinks things might get bad again at a new school next year, he replied no.
"Because I'm probably going to GFW and most of my friends going there also, so I'll actually have someone to talk to."
Dylan seems ready for the transition, but everyone adjusts at different rates. The election that sealed McLeod's fate was three months ago, but it's still hard for sophomore Paige Sikkila to talk about.
"When I found out that night I was just crying - I can't even talk about it because I don't want to be away from these guys," Sikkila said, while holding back tears. "I like teachers at McLeod West. I've been there and my parents got to graduate from there and my grandparents, and my sister, and I don't get to?"
The students who visited MPR were in St. Paul for the day. Their trip included the Minnesota History Museum, where they practiced their research skills for an upcoming project they're doing on the history of their school district.
But the students already have a grasp of the districts history, through their friends and generations of family.
"Growing up with them, watching graduations - we always dreamed of walking across that stage and graduating as Falcons together and we can't do that anymore," noted a teary Jenna Schwing. "It really hurts."
The administrative stuff needed to finalize the McLeod consolidation will also need voter approval. That election will likely be held in the middle of May - right around the time Molly Geier is preparing to compete in the track sectionals for a neighboring team, and just a couple weeks before the last day of school at McLeod West.
- Morning Edition, 02/12/2009, 6:50 a.m.