Park Rapids High School administrators desired to find a way to reach out to those students who might not otherwise have supports in place to make it in a traditional high school environment and to help them earn a high school diploma.

Lisa Coborn proved to be the answer.

The teacher built the Park Rapids Area High School Alternative Learning Center from the ground up in four years based on the research and principles of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences).

“We recognized very quickly the obstacles that students in our community were facing – including poverty, homelessness, mental health issues, absence of one or both parents, teen pregnancy, chemical dependency issues and others,” Coborn said.  “We then worked to create a program that helped students deal with these issues and still remain in school.”

Teacher of the Year

MREA named Coborn a 2018 Educators of Excellence for Greater Minnesota for her innovation and collaboration in getting results for students. Coborn will be honored at an awards banquet on Nov. 12 at Cragun’s on the Lake, near Brainerd.

“Lisa has developed countless relationships with students and families at risk in assisting them to reach success and ultimately graduation,” Park Rapids Superintendent Lance Bagstad said.

Coborn started her career as an English teacher and focused on working with students with learning disabilities before becoming the coordinator of the ALC.

“Teaching feels like home to me,” Coborn told MREA. “It has always felt like the right path. I am humbled by the opportunity to spend my days with my students, to get to know them as people and to watch them grow and succeed.”

Wellbeing First

The ALC staff members start each morning connecting with all of the students to check on their personal wellbeing.

“Often there are crisis situations that occur over the weekend so students need time to relax, process and sometimes just talk,” Coborn said. “We try to teach our students to be accountable for themselves and their actions and to accept the consequences of those actions but always understand that they can change their direction and learn from their mistakes.”

Meeting and serving these students where they are at have led to a series of community partnerships and programs. One of those is an on-site daycare for teen parents that also provides them food, supplies and parenting courses designed exclusively for them through Early Childhood Family Education.

“Lisa immerses herself in the role of meeting the academic, social and emotional needs of her students. … She has assisted students and families in seeking out medical, transportation, financial assistance and many other basic living needs.”

Collaboration at Every Corner

The community has responded to serve these students in a variety of ways. A community bank offers them financial literacy sessions and the local Subway works to hire the students and help them balance work and school, and the animal shelter gives them therapeutic volunteer opportunities.

“Lisa demonstrates the power of community collaboration,” MREA Executive Director Fred Nolan said. “The ALC program at Park Rapids continues to get results for at-risk students and thrive because of her commitment to engage the community and ensure the students feel valued in it.”