The building that houses Worthington Schools' Linworth Alternative Program is a century old this year.
The facility's electric, plumbing and other integral systems are all fine, but no one would be fooled into thinking it is new.
"It's a 100-year-old building; it has problems," said director Chris Hasbrook.
However, some of those "problems" are too intertwined with the personality of the building at 2075 W. Dublin-Granville Road to "fix," he said.
"My alumni and parents and everyone are always saying, 'Don't let them touch the building,' " he said with a laugh.
Making it personal
AnnMarie McCallister is one of those alumni. She attended Linworth in the 1980s and said "one of the amazing things" about the building is that "the more it changes, the more it stays the same."
"It's kind of a joke among graduates that we don't want them to improve the building," McCallister said. "We joke that, 'You're going to make it too nice.' It's like someone remodeling your home. It feels that personal."
Worthington's alternative program has been based at the Linworth building for 45 years.
The building was called the North Perry Township School when it opened in 1918, and it remained that until 1950, when it was absorbed into Worthington Schools and used as an elementary building.
In 1973, the building became home to the Linworth Alternative Program.
When that change was made, the focus became providing that "personal" atmosphere that McCallister described feeling about her high school.
With an enrollment of about 200 students spanning all four high school grade levels, the Linworth Alternative Program represents a different kind of education model than the type that occurs at Thomas Worthington or Worthington Kilbourne high schools.
Superintendent Trent Bowers said Linworth prioritizes flexibility and fosters independence.
He said the school is "very important to us," especially because it provides an option for students who might feel less comfortable in a traditional setting.
"The purpose of Linworth, when it began and really today, is to engage students in their education," Bowers said. "We want students to create choices to take more ownership in their education than they may have done in a traditional environment."
Students take classes at both their assigned high school and at Linworth, sometimes traveling in between.
Prospective students apply out of middle school and mostly go to Linworth for all four years. They go through an interview process that Bowers described as "just to make sure families and students understand what they're signing up for."
Hasbrook said the district has a "small wait list" for spots at Linworth, which he believes is a "nice sweet spot" because he doesn't want the school to become overburdened or "too exclusive."
As seniors, students spend the second semester of the school year on "walkabout," during which they either live elsewhere or spend their days in another city. The program is open-ended and allows students to find a "mentor" who helps teach them for nine weeks.
Some walkabout trips are service-oriented; others help prepare the students for their careers.
Bowers said students in the class of 2018 traveled abroad to Costa Rica, England, Germany, Ireland and Nepal, along with Hawaii, Massachusetts and a variety of central Ohio destinations.
The school uses "democratic scheduling," which functions on an 80-minute class period with rotating days.
Bowers said the schedule "gives teachers more time" with students and allows for more variety. It also can mean more focused classes.
"In that democratic scheduling, Linworth might take a class like English 2 and transform it to something like utopian literature, focusing a little more on something like utopias and dystopias instead of the broader English curriculum," Bowers said. "That's not for everybody."
Although Hasbrook said he agrees that Linworth might not be "for everybody," he often wonders why more people aren't interested in the school.
"Worthington knows so little about Linworth," he said. "You may hear some rumors or draw some conclusions, but I find that the vast majority of people don't know much about us at all. I don't know (why that is). I definitely don't think it's anything intentional."
Linworth doesn't offer the same standardized Advanced Placement classes or test preparation that traditional high school does, and Hasbrook said the most common question he gets from would-be parents is, "Does this prevent my kid from getting into some colleges?"
Though he understands the concern, Hasbrook said, he is trying to change how parents see the conversation. Linworth has a graduate going to Yale and recently had a former student graduate from MIT.
"Those happen," he said. "But it's hard for parents – and sometimes kids – to understand that."
The struggle for Hasbrook and others at the school, he said, is to convey that in the same way Linworth can be an alternative path for a high schooler, it can provide an alternative path toward college.
"Kids today get so much pressure about AP classes and college credit and the competition," he said. "The funny thing is, college administrative officers tell us all the time that when a kid teaches a class with a teacher or does a walkabout, that stuff stands out.
"They get hundreds of applications that have AP classes. They hear that message over and over. So we're just trying to keep that message out there that there's more than one way to succeed academically and have a great college experience."
Hasbrook said he "in no way implies that it's better" but hopes parents understand the "different dynamic."
He uses his own children as an example of the trust he has in the school.
"I tell (parents), 'Look I'm parent of three kids who graduated from Linworth and I love my kids. If I thought it wasn't safe or socially productive or healthy, I wouldn't have sent my own kids there,' " he said.
More than 30 years after her own Linworth experience, that's the same trust McCallister had.
She said when she was in high school, she "didn't want anything to do" with the main high schools and found a home at Linworth.
"The main high school felt overwhelming; I kind of felt invisible there," she said. "The smaller structure of Linworth was a much better fit for me. I was able to connect with people in a way that I felt like I couldn't connect at the main campus. Socially, for me, it was a bit of a lifeline."
So when McCallister began seeing that her son, Wes, was "a different sort of learner" who "kind of does things his own way," she decided to move out of Clintonville and back home to give Wes "the option" of Linworth.
"I said, 'I think he's a Linworth kid. We might need to move back to Worthington,' " she said.
Wes just finished his freshman year at Linworth. Just one year in, McCallister said, she can already see the school having a positive effect on Wes, who she already has begun dreaming about what he'll do for his walkabout semester.
"He's a kid who thrives when he makes strong connections with his teachers, and you can already see that developing," she said. "Those are the people who are going to stay with him all four years. It's only going to increase from there."
Bowers, Hasbrook or McCallister all said they could not be sure what the next 100 years holds for Linworth, but that's OK with them.
Hasbrook said he doesn't know how technology and the changing landscape of high school curriculums would alter the school. But even when he isn't around to oversee it, he said, he won't be worried about the resilient community it's become.
"The one thing I've definitely learned is that it evolves, and it doesn't matter," he said. It's going to be fine when I leave. ... It's survived, and it's going to survive everything that I do."
For Bowers, the facility serves as a symbol to show that the district leaders are willing to think outside the box and that they've been doing so since 1973.
"From a district standpoint, I'm really proud to be the superintendent of a district that was this forward-thinking 45 years ago," he said. "Groups from all over the country often come and look at Linworth when they say, 'How could we start something similar?' "
Though other districts might try to capture some of the essence of Linworth, McCallister said, she is skeptical they would be able to replicate it.
"I can't tell you how many classmates I've talked to who have said, 'Wow, I wish we had something like Linworth where we live,' " she said. "The truth is, there's only one Linworth."