April 23, 2014 | 10:53 AM
The Harrison County Alternative Education Center began operations in 2003 and it had the same director for the first 10 years. After Debbie Heazlitt retired last summer, a new face, Shelly Abel, has taken over in the "basement" of the Health and Education Building in Corydon.
Abel is about to complete her first year as director of the alternative school, which is located on the lowest of two underground floors of the building.
Shelly Abel, director of the Harrison County Alternative Education Center, looks over the work of two senior students. Photo by Ross Schulz
"I decided to pursue this job because I viewed it as an opportunity to help the students in Harrison County and give back to my community," she said.
Abel plans to hold a graduation ceremony May 28 for those students who have earned enough credits to graduate through the alternative school.
"These students would not graduate without this school," Abel said.
One project Abel mentioned that the students completed as part of Global Youth Services Day was the making of cards that were sent to children who are hospitalized long-term.
The students also recently completed a "junk art" project by bringing junk from home and making it into artwork.
"The students made some very interesting pieces," Abel said.
A few of the pieces of artwork are on display in the school.
Abel previously worked for a private company as its business development center manager. She has also worked in the school system, juvenile probation and for the Harrison Circuit Court judge, all of which play a part in the alternative school.
Statistics show that keeping young people on an educational track without gaps in the educational process can help reduce the overall drop-out rate and produce more economically self-sufficient adults.
The alternative school is for those students from all Harrison County schools, grades 7 through 12, who have been expelled, suspended or are looking for credit recovery or their GED.
It began as a result of a communitywide meeting called by then-Judge H. Lloyd (Tad) Whitis to discuss the number of students out of school due to expulsion or suspension. More than 50 community members attended and more than 20 meetings took place that first year as part of the planning process. The emphasis was on the continuation of a student's education while not being able to attend their home school for infractions they committed.
When it was opened in March 2003, the school was initially funded by a $25,000 grant from Metro United Way combined with a one-time commitment of $15,000 from the Harrison County Community Foundation. It is now completely funded by Harrison County Government at a cost of $259,000 per year. The funding comes from riverboat gaming revenue.
Besides Abel, the alternative school staff includes Michelle Ayres, Michelle Brewster, Beth Stroud and Adam Walker.