I welcomed myself into my classroom at Warren County High School for my interview and spent a little time getting reacquainted with me. I had just finished a long day of teaching, and was ready to pack up my bags, but took some time to show myself around. The room was cheery, with lace curtains and framed pictures. I pointed out pictures of recent graduates on the wall, and a bulletin board of current students who are making a pledge to graduate. I kicked my shoes off and folded my legs under me as I sat in my rolling desk chair, clearly familiar with the environment and ready to relax and talk about the Late Afternoon program after a day of teaching.
Ok, that is starting to sound just a little too nutty, so I guess I’ll stop the narration. I was trying to find a way to practice the kinds of interview questions I will be asking teachers and administrators when I work on my Fulbright research in the UK. I need to see if I can word my questions to get the kinds of answers I need to shape my capstone project. I’ll play it straight, though, and try to answer my own questions with answers about the Late Afternoon School in more of a list-style, below.
What is the overall goal or purpose of this program?
Our program was started with a grant from the state department of special education to increase graduation rates of students with special needs and to prepare students for post-secondary education, training, and work.
How is the program structured?
We are a “school-within-a-school” program within Warren County High School, which means we operate within a larger school, but many students have schedules and services not offered in the larger school setting. We begin by sitting down with each student and listing the courses they need to complete diploma requirements and prepare for their post-secondary goals. Then, we identify the obstacles to finishing those requirements. The obstacles are different for each student. So, we design an individualized daily schedule and array of services to overcome those obstacles and complete the needed requirements. For one student, that may mean attending regular classes for half of the day, and then taking online coursework in the evenings and weekends. Another student may need to attend a full day, and then stay after school for credit recovery. Another student may need a combination of home based services and online coursework. We may need to coordinate services with a counselor or therapist for one student, and help another enroll part-time in vocational training. Students set personal graduation goals to keep themselves on track, and make a commitment to graduate.
3. Who are the students your program serves?
We have three requirements for enrollment. First, because our funding comes from the department of special education, all students must have identified disabilities and be served through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Second, students must have the ability to complete the requirements for a general education diploma. That is, graduation through general education, and not a special education diploma, must be a realistic goal. Third, and most importantly, the student must choose Late Afternoon School for him/herself and make a personal commitment to graduate.
The Center for Evaluation and Education Policy describes the typical student most at-risk for dropping out of school in the following way: “Prior to dropping out of school, students have usually exhibited an array of warning signs which include falling significantly behind in credit completion, chronic absenteeism, lack of enrollment in clubs and/or sports, and failing standardized tests” I have found that each of the students in Late Afternoon School has a different reason for showing these signs. There is no one typical student, but most of the students fall into one of the following three groups:
- Students with social anxiety or school avoidance. Our county has only one public high school option. With over 1,800 students, it can sometimes be overwhelming to me. I know many of our students feel the same way, but when I started this job, I was surprised at how many students experience true panic attacks or have other physical symptoms of extreme anxiety toward school. Some of these students have the been victims of bullying in school in the past. Others have no specific reason to develop their anxiety.
- Students who struggle academically and who just don’t feel that school is the place they belong. Most of the students I serve have learning difficulties such as learning disabilities or attention deficits. Many of these students tell me that they have always felt lost or left out in the regular classroom. They often report feeling that no one wants them to be at school or cares whether they succeed, but they are required by law to be there anyway.
- Students with very busy, complex lives outside of school. This group includes our teen mothers, and students with other huge responsibilities outside school, such as taking care of sick relatives or working full-time to support themselves and their families.
Note: This interviewee is more long-winded than I anticipated. I think I need to resume this interview in a later post.
To be continued…
Stanley, Kylie R., and Jonathon A. Plucker. “Improving High School Graduation Rates.” ￼Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, Vol 6. No 7. Summer 2008. Web. 28 July 2013.