GOAL High School graduate. (Photo: GOAL High School).

Homelessness. Teen parenthood. Bullying. Boredom.

These are just a few of the many reasons students sometimes find it difficult to attend and graduate from a traditional brick-and-mortar high school.

But that doesn’t mean a high school degree is impossible.

GOAL High School, founded in 1997 as a charter school in Pueblo, has experienced exponential growth ever since and is now a blended school — meaning it offers both online and in-person instruction — serving thousands of students ages 16-21 throughout Colorado.

This year, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, GOAL graduated about 1,200 students, and enrollment this fall is expected to be about 5,500.

GOAL welcomes all students, but especially at-risk kids whose life circumstances often overshadow their need to finish school.

Jaime Porterfield of Pueblo knows all too well how life’s curve balls can throw a student off course. Her home life was unstable and she dropped out of high school her junior year while working 12- and 16-hour shifts at a call center to save enough money for her own apartment. Going to school and working long hours at the same time just didn’t work.

To make matters even more difficult, she was without shelter for about two weeks, sometimes sleeping in strangers’ backyards and afraid she would be discovered by the homeowners.

After two weeks of nowhere to call home, she was determined to get her diploma and get her life back on track.

“GOAL High School saved my life,” she said. She was provided with resources needed to thrive both as a student and in her day-to-day life.

Today she’s an academic coach at GOAL in Pueblo where she’s in daily contact with students, many going through what she has experienced. She also offers tutoring and checks in with the parents or grandparents.

“I wanted to provide the same hope I was given, to really help people through those tough times,” Porterfield said.

Her advice to students experiencing challenges is to connect with GOAL. “There is definitely opportunity here. They can still get their education and overcome obstacles at the same time.”

GOAL High School has 36 drop-in centers throughout the state where students can get whatever kind of help they need, whether it’s related to academics, social and emotional needs, or needing shelter. They also provide transportation to and from the centers.

In addition to a full staff of teachers, principals and others, GOAL has social workers who work exclusively with students, said Gunnison Pagnotta, communications coordinator for GOAL High School.

“Sometimes our demographic studies lead us more toward at-risk kids.

We do home visits, whatever it takes to keep students engaged. If there’s no front door (when visits to the family home are made) or the house is condemned, then we know there are bigger issues and we don’t need to bother about course work,” Pagnotta said.

At-risk students aren’t the only ones who can benefit from blended classes, however.

“We have other students who had been sitting in brick-and-mortar classrooms bored to tears, ready to go to college.”

GOAL makes that possible through partnerships with the state’s colleges and universities that allow those students to take college-level classes before graduating high school.

To ensure classwork gets done, every student is provided with a laptop and T-Mobile hot spots. Also, GOAL is one of only 500 Microsoft Showcase Schools in the world and the only online alternative education campus to be recognized for its commitment to using technology to engage students in creative ways

“It’s all about education, innovation and educational transformation,” Pagnotta said. “And it’s important to us to keep the personal touch in it, because we know that’s what works.”

In addition, GOAL students have the opportunity to play sports and participate in other extracurricular activities, such as Future Farmers of America, at nearby public schools.

And though GOAL is for students 16-21, it does allow students older than that to pursue their diplomas provided they at one time took classes through GOAL. This past year 27 students over age 21 were among graduates.

Students and parents interested in learning more about GOAL High School and/or to enroll for the upcoming school year can visit GOAL High School’s website at goalac.org or by calling 1.877.776.4624. To hear Jaime Porterfield’s story in her own words, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbtEhXrDdSY.

By Luanne Kadlub for Raised in the Rockies