“It always seems impossible until it is done.”—Nelson Mandela. Completing high school can seem impossible to students who are facing daunting obstacles in life, such as becoming a teen parent, being homeless, or dealing with social issues, behavioral difficulties, or academic deficiencies. Central Academy, Tahlequah Public Schools Alternative program, works with these at-risk students to help the seemingly impossible become a reality. Tahlequah Public Schools has been fortunate to provide this alternative education program for students who may not have been successful at the regular high school. Central has been so successful that the program was ranked among the top 3% across the state in 2015 and has also earned a spot in the top ranks again this year!
One key factor contributing to Central’s success is that the staff meets each week during their site Professional Learning Committee (PLC) to discuss and evaluate each student so that a plan of action can be implemented. Staff understands that being aware of the weekly and often daily obstacles these students face is crucial; addressing barriers prohibiting academic focus can be a constant vigil. Between this weekly PLC procedure and working closely together with the high school, it helps to ensure the success of all alternative students.
There are many diverse groups of alternative students under the umbrella of Central Academy. Cherokee County Regimented Education Academy (CCREA), directed by Command Sergeant Major Marcus Sams, is a strict behavioral and academic program created for court-ordered youth who need a strictly disciplined environment in which to be educated. The Adult Basic Education program is also at Central; students can enroll in daily classes which prepare them for the High School Equivalency Diploma (HSE). This year, an ESL class has been implemented in conjunction with the NSU Cappi Wadley Literacy Center. Another program involves enrolling some students from the John Ketcher Youth Shelter; students who are temporarily displaced can find academic continuity by attending Central Academy. In addition, students in DHS custody at the People’s Inc. boys’ residential home receive daily instruction as well. One last program is the Parent Educator Program which provides education for a child’s best first teacher, the parents. This program targets teen parents but does encourage community involvement as well.
Working with at-risk students can certainly be a daily challenge, but the rewards are great. This year Central Academy has between 30-35 students who have earned Senior status and are on track to graduate this May! This is approximately 10% -12% of the overall graduating class. Tahlequah Public Schools has long understood that not all students are able to be successful in the same environment. The smaller class size and student-teacher ratio, intense focus, and individual attention that the alternative students receive promotes a motivational setting where students begin to believe they have a bright future. Central students come to understand this quote by John Foster Dulles, “The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.”