Vania Johnson, a tenth-grade student at the George V. Voinovich Reclamation - Bridgescape Academy in Cleveland, recently put her strong commitment to helping the less fortunate into action. Last week, Vania arranged a bake sale to benefit the City Mission of Cleveland. The City Mission provides shelter and other services to the homeless.
Although she has thought of several projects to help her cause, Vania spoke to Program Director Jennifer Morrison about her idea and Morrison arranged for the staff to contribute baked goods to the cause.
Vania baked chocolate cupcakes and recruited Brooke King, a 9th grader, to manage the bake sale table with her on the day of the bake sale. The bake sale drew buyers from our entire building including students, teachers and staff from organizations that share the building. Vania raised $73.00 during the bake sale. The next day, she took her donation to the City Mission and got to learn more about how her money will be used to service the Cleveland community.
Raquel Alexander is a 20 year old senior at Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy Humboldt Park, and is from the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. She has been in the program for two years, and is now focused on graduating in June and continuing her education.
In order to save money, Raquel plans to attend Truman College and study Criminal Justice. Her goal is to then transfer to Loyola University and major in law. Raquel will then apply to Law School at DePaul University and hopes to eventually practice law in the city of Chicago. Raquel plans to contribute directly to the change she wants to see in her community.
In addition to her studies, Raquel enjoys both music and the arts. Her specific interests are Pop Rock and drawing as she grew up learning about both from her father. She also believes music and art are relatable to her life, and serve a therapeutic purpose.
The Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy in Durham, North Carolina celebrated Winter Graduation on January 19, with 14 new graduates. While the students came from many different backgrounds, they all had the same story -- they had disengaged from high school and saw the importance of earing their high school diploma.
Among the graduates: Heather wants to go on to Wake Technical Community College, while Diamond plans to go to school to pursue a career in medicine. Demetrius started the semester 16 credits shy of graduation and earned EVERY credit he needed in one semester. Jennifer is a wife and mother of 3; her little girls cheered for their mom as she walked across the stage. All of students were grateful for MJBA and the staff who pushed them, cheered them, and coached them to the finish line.
Since the inception of the program, more than 1,100 non-graduates have earned their high school diplomas from Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academies. Eight-six percent of the graduates from the Class of 2015 are attending college, trade school, are employed, or are serving their country in the military.
After completing 8th grade, Titochie Figures dropped out of school. For more than a year, his educational future looked bleak, and it was more than likely that he would never earn his high school diploma.
However, in September of 2014, Titochie enrolled at the Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. Starting out with zero credits towards graduation, and initially struggling to become acclimated to the school’s culture and learning environment, Titochie finally hit his stride.
With the guidance and encouragement of the MJBA Englewood academic team, Titochie successfully advanced through his course work to the point that on January 12 – Titochie Figures became a high school graduate, and will be joining the Work Training Program at the Chicago Urban League.
The Virginian Pilot
Norfolk, VA -- Still a high school sophomore at 18, Shalya Lancaster struggled to stay on track to graduate. She juggled day classes at Lake Taylor High School with two night courses at Granby High last year. She still had five of six required state exams to pass. "It was very stressful," she said.
Lancaster wanted to catch up, but she struggled to find the motivation she had before her mother died eight years ago. She fell behind, in part, because of negative peer pressure. "When I got to ninth grade, I thought it was fun skipping school," she said. "So I kept doing the same thing, the same thing every year."
Her attendance and grades plummeted. Being so far behind at the point when most peers are graduating, she planned to drop out. But a counselor told her about the school division's newest program, the Open Campus for dropouts and students who have fallen behind. Lancaster left Lake Taylor and in September began taking online classes at the new school in the Coronado area, on Widgeon Road. Students study on computers in one main lab along with participating in small-group instructional sessions.
On a fast track, Lancaster could earn her eight remaining credits in a year, or a little longer if she runs into any academic snags. Either way, she's now more likely to get a diploma.
The Open Campus has been touted as a graduation game-changer, giving students a second chance to earn diplomas - not just a General Educational Development equivalency certificate - and helping to boost the division's lagging graduation rates.
The program is part of the Transformation Initiative, a divisionwide improvement plan the School Board adopted last year. The division partnered with the private EdisonLearning and Magic Johnson Bridgescape operate the program, though other components add to the cost. The companies operate similar programs throughout the country, though evaluators didn't compare Norfolk's to those.
State Del. Daun Hester, a former teacher and Norfolk City Council member, serves as the school's executive director. Norfolk provides other staff and resources.
The school opened in October 2014, with spots for 100 dropouts and about 25 students considered older than the typical age for their grade levels. With a rolling enrollment, about 200 participated at some point during the year. About 20 graduated in the spring. School leaders haven't set an annual graduation goal.
The program targets students on the fringes, and they come to school with more than academic problems.
Lancaster needed to work to help support herself and her family. She's moved with relatives three times since her mother died. "Eventually, I was like, I'm just tired. I gotta do something with my life. I can't depend on nobody to do nothing for me," she said. "I'm going to just come back to school and just do whatever I have to do, no matter what."
Now she works full time at McDonald's while attending morning or afternoon sessions at the school. She can check out a computer to work on courses at home when needed. Teachers cheer her on when she gets tired or frustrated. "They help you; they're very supportive," she said.
Lancaster's experiences echo program successes outlined in an evaluation compiled by Old Dominion University researchers. The School Board recently discussed the findings, which showed promising data about helping vulnerable students. But the school also faced difficulties in its first year.
There were fights and other discipline problems, and on-site attendance hovered around 40 percent. The division chose novice teachers to instruct some of its most challenged students. Most teachers of the program's core content - English, math, science and social studies - had less than three years' experience. Although the program provides online courses, the teachers felt the students could benefit from more direct, small-group instruction, according to the report.
Teachers generally spoke favorably about their experiences but said they could benefit from more training and professional support. On any given day, they teach various topics across grade levels. The program could use more teachers, especially to help with reading, the report said.
Many students struggle to read beyond an elementary level, according to the report. The majority of students came in classified as sophomores, while others just needed to pass the Standards of Learning exams required to graduate. The school noted over-age students passed only one SOL exam, and school leaders plan to explore other options for those students.
Open Campus students face significant family and social hardships, including incarceration, homelessness, children and financial difficulties.
A host of support services contribute to students' success, the report said. Teachers facilitate advisory groups, community partners provide job opportunities and parenting and prenatal resources, and the division helps with transportation among other things not usually offered in an alternative education setting.
Some students still struggle to make it to school despite the support. Hester will track down wayward students in their neighborhoods or on their jobs. They still need guidance even though they're young adults, she said. "I see the kids' needs," she said. "They want to be successful. They don't, maybe, necessarily know how."
Hester acknowledged the difficulty in leading a school and serving as a state delegate. She'll be gone when the General Assembly convenes in mid-January through mid-March. She won't get paid while she's away. "The foundation is set before I go, and the expectations they know," she said.
At Open Campus, students take two courses at a time and complete at least 10 online lessons each day. But there is no specific time frame for students to graduate, just that it occurs before they "age out" of public school at 20, depending on their classification. The option of earning a diploma - compared with a GED - motivated students to attend the program, the report said.
Statistical credit when they do graduate goes to their "home" school, the one they were assigned to before attending Open Campus. That's because the state Education Department considers Open Campus a program, not a separate school. That arrangement is not uncommon in Norfolk or the state but has raised questions about accountability because schools get credit for students not enrolled in them.
Along with highlighting successes, the evaluators made several recommendations, including better recruitment and identification efforts, more scheduling options and on-site child care to boost attendance, teacher training and interactive learning. The program also connects students with college and career opportunities once they graduate.
Elizabeth Rice, who needed 10 credits when she enrolled, finished the program and plans to take part in a graduation ceremony later this year. Rice said she doesn't think she could have earned a diploma without Open Campus. "I struggled a lot in high school," she said.
Rice plans to attend Tidewater Community College, where she earned a scholarship. She wants to study nursing and psychology. Of all the things to be happy about, she's most proud to be "finally seeing myself doing something good for my life."
Division leaders have discussed expanding the program while focusing on the problems that contribute to the dropout rate in the first place. It's too early to tell whether the program is the most effective way to achieve academic and graduation goals for vulnerable students, they said.
For now, they're taking it one student at a time.