Open house shares students’ success stories, information about program

Published 10:10 am Thursday, March 14, 2019

NILES — Chase Kelly is a pretty busy high schooler.

In addition to preparing to graduate in December, he works a full-time, six-day-a-week job and helps out on his family’s farm in Niles. For Kelly, a traditional high school setting would not allow him to accomplish what he does today, which is why he has been part of Niles Community School District’s Widening Advancement for Youth for the past three years.

Tuesday afternoon, Kelly was one of several WAY students to attend an open house for the program at the former Niles Community Schools Administration building, 111 Spruce St.

Chriss Foster, the director of the WAY program, shared with those in attendance how the program can benefit youth looking for an alternative to traditional middle school or high school.

“Something I love about my job is we individualize our program for students,” Foster said.

Youth involved in the project-based learning program are referred to as researchers. The district equips them with a computer workstation, internet connectivity at their home, mentors, team leaders and an on-campus learning lab.

During the open house, middle school student Kamren Bierly shared a project he created, discussing a law passed in Belleville, Illinois that forbids youth over the age of 12 to trick-or-treat. Bierly created an argument based on research he conducted for the project and earned credit in social studies and English.

Other students involved in the program discussed projects they were working on what they had gained from WAY.

Brianna Hayslip talked about how she had struggled in the traditional school setting and did not feel motivated in school. When the WAY staff showed they believed in her, Hayslip’s perception of her education changed.

“Chriss [Foster], my team leader, was so supportive and encouraging as I was trying to get back on track with my education,” Hayslip said. “Chriss [Foster] and the WAY program staff helped me understand that traditional school was not right for everybody and that I could still be successful.”

Hayslip also credited Jennifer Mockler, a probation officer who works with the program, for dedicating time to help her overcome challenges. Now, Hayslip said she is now on track to graduate in May.

For Foster, she said she loves when the program can show students just how engaging and inspiring learning can be.

“The cool thing about my job is when the light turns on for these students,” Foster said. “When that light turns on, I just want to shout.”

Since the WAY program got its start in 2011, 71 students have graduated. An additional 29 students are on track to graduate this year.

Foster emphasized that the program would be ideal for any student who wants an alternative to the traditional high school setting.

“We have such a good program for students who want to move faster and graduate,” Foster said.

Foster encouraged parents and students who feel like the program might be the right fit to reach out to the program at (269) 684-1532. For additional information on the program, visit, select nontraditional schools and WAY program at the top of the page.