A north metro alternative public charter high school where meeting students' basic needs and lessons on social emotional learning are at the heart of the curriculum is now tending to its own needs.

Paladin Career and Technical High School has outgrown the space it leases in the Northtown Mall in Blaine and will move into a vacant insurance building in Coon Rapids where classes will be held starting next fall.

Paladin spent about $6.6 million to acquire the building at 10220 NW. Goldenrod St. School officials on Nov. 30 held a ceremonial groundbreaking to kick off a renovation project that will give the school amenities it has never had in its 18-year history: windows, a gymnasium and green space.

"The move to the new building is really exciting and a very big change for Paladin," said junior Zahraa Zghair, of Blaine. "I feel as if we'll have even more opportunities and experiences."

Those experiences could include woodworking and physical education classes, and in future years possibly athletic teams. In the short term the move is driven by the need for more room as enrollment has risen from about 70 in 2003 to over 200 students ages 14 to 21 this year, said Principal Brandon Wait.

Why the rise?

"We are a relationship-first school," Wait said. "We believe that food, shelter, clothing, access to healthcare, safety, respect and a sense of belonging are prerequisites to social, emotional and academic growth."

Students participate in daily success team meetings to strengthen resilience and teamwork skills by connecting with other students and Paladin staff, Wait said. Instead of discipline, the school uses restorative practices to bring victims, offenders and their supporters together to address wrongdoing.

"I was not doing well at my last school," said Shylo Garcia, a sophomore from Minneapolis. "I was nervous at first because trying new things is always hard for me. Ever since my first day, I have felt like I belonged here. I really appreciate how Paladin prioritizes basic necessities before trying to get students focused on learning."

Each Paladin student has an individual learning plan and can complete course work at their own pace. Students can earn credit by working a job. Others can take advantage of project-based learning such as volunteering to build homes with Habitat for Humanity or landscaping with groups such as Tree Trust. They can also earn credit through experiential learning provided through camping trips and service work.

"Our mission is to help students realize their own potential and to provide an environment in which they can truly thrive," said Wait, noting students learn personal responsibility, self-confidence and the importance of being engaged in community.

The formula caught the attention of Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest, which featured Paladin on a 2020 PBS documentary called "Learning for a Lifetime." The show focused on schools that developed a positive school climate, trust between students and staff, and implemented social and emotional learning practices, lessons Zghair said have been life-changing.

"I'm very grateful for every chance Paladin has given me to become the best version of myself," she said.