Cassie Cox understands how it feels to be on the outside, to struggle in school. As a high school dropout, she understands that traditional education doesn’t work for everyone.
The English teacher who now holds a master’s degree works at Two Rivers Alternative High School in Ogden, Utah. She realizes her school is often the last hope for the 200 to 300 students who attend in their quest to graduate.
It is the only alternative High School in the Weber School District.
It is a closed-enrollment school requiring a referral from a traditional high school and the district’s Student Services Department.
Students are referred because of attendance, academic or disciplinary issues or they may just have a preference for the smaller class size.
The school has a Young Parent’s program that allows parents to bring their babies or toddlers to the childcare facility while they attend class.
Cox, who has taught for more than a decade, was honored March 14 as Teacher of the Year and received a $1,500 grant from the 100% for Kids Credit Union Foundation.
100% for Kids has funded grants in Utah since December 2002. Teachers apply online for grants ranging from less than $100 to thousands. Grants cannot be used for consumable classroom supplies.
Choosing the teachers who receive the grant is a tough call for board members as it is impossible to fund every grant they receive.
"They dig through all the applications and the find the gems," said Liz White of the 100% for Kids Credit Union Foundation.
Cox arranged for authors to come to the school and speak with students. Her students were given the opportunity to earn the chance to meet individually and have dinner with authors. Cox describes the experience as a powerful motivator to read books they would not normally choose.
"Reading and meeting authors opens up possibilities for the students," she said.
Cox applied for the grant to buy the author’s books. She chose books involving overcoming obstacles. Many of the books she selected were written by Utah authors.
The highlight of the year was when Simeon Wright, author of Simeon’s Story, visited her students. Wright is the cousin of Emmett Till, who was kidnapped and murdered in 1955. The Chicago native was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he was taken from the bed he was sleeping in next to Wright and murdered for whistling at a white woman.
Simeon, a living link to the civil rights movement, was a powerful presenter.
"Simeon told students to be kind. He asked them whether or not they would stand up for what’s right when the times comes," she said.
Wright’s visit was so popular, previous graduates from the school attended the event.
Cox described her students as having personal stories fit for the Lifetime Channel. "They have had lives full of challenges and hardships."
Cox tries to offer them hope and tells them that while they can’t control their past, they can control their future and who they become.
Teaching is her life and her passion.
"Teachers change lives and save lives every day," Cox said. "In schools like Two Rivers, we are often lifelines for our students. Many of our students would be high school drop outs if our school did not exist."
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.