In every school, there is a need for a support system that students can fall back on. Dayton’s Skysail program not only provides that support, but it also helps students find the motivation to pursue their dreams well beyond school.

The Skysail program was started by Janelle Jackson who embraced the philosophy that no student should get left behind. With ten years of teaching experience in general education, Mrs. Jackson has a deep passion for alternative education. She believes that it is important to give students personalized, independent learning opportunities to meet their needs so that they can recognize their full potential.

Five years ago, Mrs. Jackson collaborated with Dayton High School principal Jami Fluke to launch Skysail. She described the process of its creation as “building an airplane in the sky.” As Mrs. Jackson explains, “[The airplane] does not land. You have to add onto it, discard parts of it, let people board, and let people disembark, all while you continue to move. You never stop, quit, or give up.”

The creative mindset that created Skysail continues to define the program today.

Reflecting on the beginning of Skysail, Mrs. Jackson says: “I felt that I wanted to make a difference in a students’ life. I also felt that there was a need [for the program].” The life of a student can be complicated. In every student’s success story, there is inevitably a number of challenges. “The fact is that some kids have hard stories.” She explained. “A big part of my job is finding ways to connect to them.” She said that it is not just about finding a student’s academic “fit” to give them the education that will best assist them. It’s also about love, support, and empathy.

To Mrs. Jackson, the purpose she finds within her role as the alternative education coordinator for the school district can be reflected in a tale called The Starfish Story. In this story, a child walks on the beach picking up starfish that have washed up on the sand. One by one, he throws them back into the ocean so that they won’t dry up and die. The child is eventually approached by an adult who doubts his efforts, saying that there are thousands of washed up starfish on the beach and that he will never be able to help all of them. In response, the child picks up another starfish, tosses it into the ocean, and says: “You may be right — but I helped that one.”

During graduation each year, Mrs. Jackson gives each one of her Skysail students a starfish pin to wear on their graduation robes. Mrs. Jackson explained that the pin is a symbol of hope. She says: “The idea is that once they graduate, their job is to pass hope onto other people. That’s why we give them their starfish.”

One student who became inspired by the program is Faith Donaldson. She is a freshman at Dayton. Faith was diagnosed with dyslexia in the fifth grade and has endured numerous struggles in school. After her diagnosis, she tried homeschooling for three years. This year, Faith is attending Dayton High School using the Skysail program.

Faith says that in Skysail, she can go at her own pace and manage her work with any support she needs. Faith has seen the power and importance of alternative education and believes that it will be a big part of her own future leaving high school. After she graduates, she wants to be a barton tutor; a tutor that specializes in aiding students with dyslexia.

The Skysail room is overflowing with student motivation. In fact, last years alternative ed. graduation rate was 100% and the overall graduation rate at Dayton is currently one of the highest in the state due to programs like Skysail and other strong support systems within the school.

There is one motivator that every student needs in order to succeed: hope. Without it, they can become lost, unable to find the inspiration to pursue their dreams. Educators like Janelle Jackson are willing and ready to fight for those students against all odds and inspire them to fulfill their personal aspirations no matter what it takes. It is this commitment that brings students hope. And, with inspired hope, any student can achieve greatness.

Bevin Schrag Administrator

Bevin Schrag is a writer for Innovate Oregon. While working in social media and marketing at OnlineNW, she is currently studying the arts at Chemeketa Community College, to later become a media designer.