No two days are ever the same at Atlantis Alternative High School in Flint, Mich., where Carrie Schaaf has taught English and art for the past five years. Schaaf also puts her artistic talents to good use as a nail tech at Wild Side Spa in Davison, Mich., working evenings and weekends. “Our school is labeled an alternative program because we offer an alternative to the standard school setup,” says Schaaf, who holds an undergraduate degree in education and a master’s degree in liberal studies. “If students have struggled along their educational journey, if they are young parents, or if they simply want a more relaxed, accepting environment, they come to our program.
“We deliver Michigan’s state-mandated curriculum, but we do so much more. We counsel, mentor, laugh, and cry with our students. We provide support for them during their high school career with us, and well after. Our staff is frequently invited to former students’ weddings, baby showers, and even college graduations.”
For Schaaf, the most rewarding part of her teaching career is seeing her students walk across the stage at graduation. “Every one of our students has a different journey, with unique challenges that lead them to our program,” she says. “When they finally receive their diploma, some representing their families for the first time, there is not a dry eye in the auditorium.”
The tough part is dealing with students who make bad choices for themselves. “It’s hard to watch good teenagers make poor choices that will negatively affect their future,” she says. “Although I keep long hours working at both jobs, I feel the time I spend both with my students and my wonderful clients keeps me feeling rejuvenated and always keeps me on my toes.”