Wichita Metro-Boulevard plans all-school reunion

Making a living topped Schane Gross' priority list. As a teenager, school — especially ones that didn't embrace her desire to work — came in second.

Gross attended five high schools before she landed at a Wichita alternative school, Metro-Boulevard. There, teachers fed her entrepreneurial spirit.

"As a person, they validated me," said Gross, a 1992 graduate. "Where I didn't have the kind of support I needed for my entrepreneurship ideas, they gave them to me."

"That brick building would not have survived without those people manning it."

This weekend, Gross — now the owner of the Anchor in Wichita and a busy mom of three — will join teachers, graduates and former attendees celebrating Metro-Boulevard's 40th anniversary at its second all-school reunion. The reunion is open to former students, including non-graduates, teachers and staff.

The reunion "serves a two-fold purpose," said the event's co-organizer Cynthia Johnston: remembering the school's history and reconnecting with students.

"We form really close bonds with some of the students," said Johnston, who taught social studies at the school for 20 years before retiring in 2006. "A lot of them we stay in contact with over the years."

The reunion starts at 2 p.m. Saturday at Metro-Boulevard Alternative High School, 751 George Washington Blvd., near Lincoln and Grove. Activities wrap up at 5 p.m.

The school has served more than 2,000 students during the past 40 years, including nearly 1,900 graduates. The brick building, tucked in a neighborhood just northwest of Senseney Music, opened to about a dozen students in 1971 after "there were tensions at one of the other high schools," Johnston said.

Metro-Boulevard caters to freshmen through seniors who need extra help learning or who don't feel comfortable in traditional high schools. Metro-Boulevard principal Lisa Wyatt said others are advanced learners or bored with traditional school.

Counselors or principals of other schools recommend most to Metro-Boulevard. Some, like Gross, enroll on their own. The small class sizes, usually 30 to 40 teens per graduating class, allow teachers to individualize learning to the needs of each student, Wyatt said.

Gross, now 37, said she moved away from her parents' house as a teenager. Her mom, a student and full-time nurse, took care of four children — including Gross — while her husband fought in the Gulf War.

"I wasn't old enough to drink," Gross said about leaving home. "I wasn't old enough to work at a gas station."

By 17, she was a self-employed, "pretty good student" who "just lost faith and dropped off at some point," Gross said, and needed an alternative to traditional coursework.

Metro-Boulevard offered a work-for-credit program that fit the bill.

"They gave me literal credit, like high school credit," Gross said. "For having a real job and real paycheck and a real pay stub, I got three and a half credits."

Within a year, she graduated.

The school culture has changed a bit in 40 years, Wyatt said. Fifth-year seniors and adult students no longer attend. The work-for-credit program that helped Gross is also in its final year, thanks to changes in Kansas education standards. But there's still a strong connection between the teachers and students who make up the Metro-Boulevard family.

"Everything that you do in life of course affects the future," Gross said, "but I know that Metro-Boulevard is a huge pinnacle in my past."