When was Black Hills Education Connection established? What was its purpose?

In the spring of 1996 the administrators from the Spearfish and Belle Fourche High Schools were struggling with increased drop-out rates. The two school districts had approached Black Hills Special Services Cooperative (BHSSC) about designing an alternative learning environment to assist in addressing the needs of high risk students. In 1996 Black Hills Education Connection (BHEC) was established to provide an alternative learning environment for the Spearfish and Belle Fourche School District. In the spring of 2004, the Belle Fourche School District decided to open an alternative school in their local community. At this time the Lead-Deadwood School District requested educational services for the 2005 school year and continued contracting for services through the 2009 school year. In 2009, the Lead-Deadwood School District decided to open an alternative school within their local community. At this time Spearfish requested the student slots that had become available. Since that time, BHEC has served only the Spearfish School District.

Is Black Hills Education Connection accredited?

BHEC is an Education Alternative Program under Black Hills Special Services Cooperative. BHSSC meets all requirements set forth by the State of South Dakota to be recognized by the Department of Education as an approved service provider.

What are the demographics of the students served by BHEC?

BHEC serves students enrolled at the Spearfish High School grades 10-12, with most students being in the 11th and 12th grade. The focus of BHEC is to provide at-risk youth with an alternative learning environment and increase the graduation rate. The target population includes students who are not successful in the traditional classroom and those who have fallen behind in credits. BHEC is not a behavioral or special education program. We do serve students on IEP’s, but students with severe behavioral or students with extensive special education needs have programs currently available in other educational environments. The main goal of BHEC is to assist students in receiving a high school diploma from their respective high school with a secondary goal of obtaining job readiness skills and career direction.

How many students does BHEC serve in a year?

The Spearfish School District contracts for thirty-two student slots. The average yearly graduation rate from BHEC is 20-25 students, even though we may serve 50 students in a year. BHEC has graduated 555 students since October 1996.

What is the referral process to enroll at BHEC?

The Spearfish School District has contracted for a limited number of student slots to be utilized with the at-risk population in their district. The student completes an application form and submits it to the Spearfish High School (SHS) Counselor’s Office. A screening committee composed of Spearfish School District staff reviews the application. The committee determines if they wish to refer the student to BHEC based on the student’s needs and appropriateness for the program. BHEC is notified of the referral. The BHEC Director schedules an interview with the student and parent to review the application packet and transcript. The BHEC Director also provides an overview of the program to determine if this is the learning environment the student wishes to attend, and if it is appropriate.

What is the school structure and program schedule at BHEC?

Two groups of students attend BHEC: Group A, which attends on Monday and Tuesday and Group B, which attends on Wednesday and Thursday. Student hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. BHEC doors are locked at 8:45 in the morning and 12:15 in the afternoon. Admittance is not permitted after the doors are locked. Two Friday’s a month are available for students to make up time, do additional course work, and provide intakes on new referrals. In addition to attending school two days a week, students are expected to partake in employment or work related activities. BHEC follows the Spearfish School District calendar in regards to holidays and snow days, but does not follow the in-service schedule. BHEC offers summer school during the month of June and students are encouraged to participate.

Are there work experience opportunities available?

Students can earn up to two elective credits for work experience. This is earned by completing 90 hours of work experience and the completion of a job shadow to earn a ½ credit. To earn the two full credits the students have to complete 360 hours through employment. A career interest test is given to provide the student and career specialist with information that will assist the student in making career decisions and obtaining employment. The BHEC Career Specialist works with students individually in pursuing employment and work experiences. Students participate in Post-high Planning Day at SHS. Black Hills State University, Western Dakota Technical Institute, and Wyoming Technical College provide presentations at BHEC to introduce students to post-secondary opportunities and dual credit.

What type of educational format is followed in providing education to student’s at BHEC?

The program is designed to be individualized as students enter and exit BHEC at various times throughout the school year. When students complete the required graduation course work, they have completed the BHEC program. New students are then referred. The Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE) is administered to all students to identify their reading, math and language skills. TABE scores are used to adjust and individualize curriculum. Self-paced classes are available online through the Acellus Learning System. Acellus delivers short video lessons. Practice problems are provided to assess understanding of the concept taught. Using Deficiency Diagnostics, Acellus assesses areas of student weakness and gives additional help and practice in these areas, which further customizes the learning process. In addition to Acellus, students complete course work through an independent study curriculum and small group classes.

Do students earn a high school diploma through BHEC?

BHEC students are still enrolled with the Spearfish School District. The student’s grades and courses completed at BHEC are transferred to SHS at the end of each semester, which are added to their transcript. Students graduate with a high school diploma from Spearfish High School upon meeting the graduation requirements for the school district.