Alumni Working with Unique Charter School System Support At-Risk Teens
According to the Ad Council, more than 1,300 students drop out of school each day. High school dropouts make 43 percent less money in the workplace than those with diplomas, and more than half of all dropouts are unemployed. Dropouts are three times as likely to face poverty and require public assistance than high school graduates. And an estimated two-thirds of all prison inmates are dropouts.
These staggering statistics are compelling evidence for the need to support at-risk students. That is where Options for Youth (OFY) Public Charter Schools come in. Directed by Dr. Jennifer Kliewer, who acts as deputy superintendent for the program in addition to her position as an adjunct Alumni Working with Unique Charter School System Support At-Risk Teens faculty member for the GSEP Education Leadership Academy (ELA), OFY helps up to 60 percent of at-risk students in grades 7 through 12 return to public school or earn a high school diploma.
“What is unique is that students attend our schools by choice,” said Kliewer. “All students sign a contract stating their commitment to earn a diploma by voluntarily adhering to our enrollment requirements: attendance, work production, test performance, and graduation. In addition, students are required to do 10 hours of community service in order to graduate.”
OFY was founded in 1987 as a contracted service of the Los Angeles Unified School District. It is one of the oldest charter schools in California, with five charters around the state. The schools are effective in helping teens attain “academic recovery” because they use independent, self-paced, one-onone directed learning; promote experiential learning and attention to one or two courses at a time; and focus on state standards and continuous learning with more school days. To this point, OFY’s passage rates either meet or exceed the rates of all alternative schools in the counties where they operate.
Kevin Adamson (MS ’09), a senior teacher in one of OFY’s Burbank centers and an ELA alumnus, described the system as “a great option for students who have fallen behind in credits at their resident Kevin Adamson 16 GSEP Colleague Spring/Summer 2010 GSEP Colleague Spring/Summer 2010 17 middle or high school and who need to participate in academic remediation, students who do not perform at their fullest potential in the traditional classroom, or students who prefer to work at their own pace.”
Adamson is providing his students with especially unique opportunities through the “Open Mic Club” he founded. Based on his ELA portfolio project and inspired by the movie School of Rock, Adamson created an afterschool music program that offers a forum for students to meet and discuss music, learn how to play various instruments, and perform at “Open Mic Nights” for family and friends.
“From a research standpoint I wanted to see if this type of club would increase student achievement,” explained Adamson. “But the best thing about this project for me, professionally, was that I proved to myself that I could conceive of, coordinate, and direct a school-wide project that was inspirational and motivational for students and staff.” The club has been so successful that it is now in its third session.
Michael Scher (MS ’09), another ELA alumnus and academic recovery teacher with OFY, noted that the program offers flexibility and independence, while also ensuring regular oneon- one contact with OFY’s instructors who teach, monitor progress, assign homework, and administer weekly tests. “Guided independent study is a proven approach to learning often compared to the college model because students complete most of their schoolwork outside the traditional classroom,” said Scher. “This means they have to be responsible, selfreliant, self-disciplined, and accountable to their teachers and themselves.”
Scher is currently coordinating a school-towork program that gives high school seniors the opportunity to gain valuable career training while finishing their diploma. He teaches all academic subjects, acts as an academic advisor, and sometimes finds himself offering social guidance.
“My role throughout the day is varied,” laughed Scher. “One minute I am a math teacher, the next a college planner, and the next, someone to whom a student can talk about a personal issue. Fortunately, my experience at GSEP helped me realize that I have the leadership ability to offer these students guidance and help them become agents of change in their own lives.”
Adamson underscored this point: “In my experience, the most important thing that we achieve is providing a place for students, who were underserved by traditional schools, to flourish. I believe that many students just need a second chance and, once it has been granted, they can reach goals at our school that they could not at a traditional school. I also believe that the personal attention students receive through OFY and the care we take to individualize the educational program are important.”
Francisco Ayala (MS ’07), a regional supervisor for OFY and another ELA alumnus, confirmed that “through alternative learning settings which address the cultural, social, and intellectual needs of our nation’s diverse students, at-risk teens are given the leg up they need to finish high school, enter the workforce, and pursue a college career. “We truly are ’empowering minds by inspiring hearts.'”