Affirmations to offer alternative high school program in October

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published September 18, 2013

FERNDALE — Affirmations, a community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Ferndale, promotes that getting one’s high school diploma is vital, no matter how difficult it may be.

Communications Director Cassandra Varner said the center sees people every week who have dropped out of high school for various reasons, ranging from being bullied or treated differently to having to get a job to help support their family.

Starting in October, Affirmations will offer an alternative high school program for LGBT students who want to earn their diplomas. While the program is aimed at the LGBT community, Varner said anyone could attend.

“The dropout rate for LGBT students is extremely high for a lot of reasons, but the big reason is they don’t feel safe in schools, whether that is from getting bullied or not feeling comfortable,” Varner said. “When they end up dropping out, that doesn’t lead to anything exciting for them. We wanted to provide a program in this space so kids could come here and feel comfortable, and it is flexible to their needs.”

The program is a virtual program run through Michigan Educational Partnership and endorsed by Fulton High School and the Gratiot County School District. Students ages 17 and older can attend by taking classes online anytime, but they also have certified teachers available to help with problems during courses.

Affirmations has a cyber café with 15 computers, so students without access to a computer at home or who just want to be in a different environment can study at Affirmations whenever the offices are open.

“We recognize that increasing access to economic opportunity for many in our community begins with getting a high-quality basic education,” Program Director Johnny Jenkins said. “Affirmations is perfectly positioned to offer such a program in a bully-free and non-judgmental environment.”

The accredited school program follows the Michigan Merit curriculum with courses that involve multimedia, animations, video presentations and vocabulary activities, among other things. The program also is free of charge to anyone who wants to attend.

Varner said the certified teachers are more facilitators or tutors to the students, as they are not involved in teaching the courses, but they can offer help.

“It is exciting to have a space that is specifically reserved for these students so they can earn their diploma,” she said. “There are people who have come to Affirmations programs who were youth that aged out of the youth programs, but we still see every day. We know a lot of them have not graduated, and they come and utilize the center anyway, so now they have a perfect opportunity to better their life.”

After students make contact with Affirmations to register, they will be contacted by one of the endorsing schools’ staff members to go through the registration process and meet with a certified teacher.

Affirmations Executive Director Dave Garcia said this program is just another step for Affirmations to help out the LGBT community as much as possible.

“A lot of these kids don’t believe they can (earn their diploma) and have fallen through the cracks of traditional high school,” Garcia said. “Here, they get more individualized attention and are instilled with the belief that they can succeed.”

For more information on the alternative high school program, contact Affirmations Volunteer and Facilities Manager Mark McMillan at (248) 677-7224 or