Our first goal is to engage our students to become re-committed to school. The kids that come to us have a history of leaving school, whether through dropping out, being expelled or being long-term suspended as a result of chronic absenteeism or behavior problems. They need to believe that our school is the right place for them. Our kids stay with us primarily because of the relationships that develop between themselves and the staff. They know our staff cares and goes the extra mile to keep them in school.
We have a retention team in place at each academy that works with our students on a continuous basis to understand students’ ongoing needs to be able to sustain themselves in school. If they need transportation, we pick them up or provide bus tickets. If they do not have child care, we connect them to our newly initiated volunteer child care services housed at our southwest campus If they do not have food, we feed them. We want them to succeed and we will do everything possible to keep them in school, making progress and working toward graduation and future success.
After they have made a commitment to return to school, students will typically see the progress they are capable of making under the guidance of a loving, nurturing staff, and will decide to stay in school. This is a different kind of progress, an emotional confidence that students need to believe they can keep going. They learn to love school, and love learning once more. It is difficult to measure, but we know this kind of progress must be established in the students’ minds before the other kind of academic progress can flourish.
We have developed an individualized, self-paced approach to help our students on a case-by-case basis. When they come to us, we assess where they are academically and help them to move forward from that level. We create an education development plan (EDP) based on the credits they have and what they will need to graduate. This customized approach seems to make a huge difference to students. Some kids are motivated to accelerate their pace of course completion and meet their requirements by working through double sessions (our school day consists of two 4-hour sessions, AM and PM). Other students need or prefer additional time and the direct teaching approach. They need encouragement. Many of them have come from environments where a priority on school must take a back seat to other more pressing needs. They need to be encouraged and reminded that every step they take makes a difference. Whether it is enhancing their verbal and written communication abilities, developing their job skills in our internship program or learning Algebra, they are learning skills and lessons that will help them move toward success in the real world and progress graduation. Once they see the progress for themselves, their road to graduation is much clearer.
Progress leads to graduation. Graduation is the highlight of our year. Kids who were once dropouts accomplish something that many of them believed they would never achieve. This day is a huge milestone for them, their family and the community. Yes, they have a diploma, but they have something perhaps even more valuable – confidence in themselves and the realization that they matter and are able to accomplish the goals they set for themselves.