Student partnership program aims to change lives
In high schools throughout the nation, classrooms are overcrowded, teachers are overworked, and school systems do not have time to deal with at risk children. Whether they suffer from substance abuse or lack of parental guidance, those students need extra help.
The Student Partnership Program in Santa Clarita, Calif., was established in 1994 to provide that help. Created with the Los Angeles Office of Education, the William S. Hart Union High School District and local businesses, the program calls for alternative classrooms with small student-to-teacher ratios, a tailored academic program and work opportunities.
Most of the 200 students who have participated in the program had previously experienced problems such as poor attendance, academic failure or behavioral difficulties. Program coordinators have credited the program with a marked improvement in students attendance records. In 1997, for example, students entering the program had a 30 percent absentee rate. But, at the end of the 199798 school year, 90 percent of the students had excellent attendance, and 20 percent had perfect attendance.
Just because these kids are termed at risk, it does not mean they are hopeless, says Ron Michelstein, a teacher at the Student Partnership Program. They are capable of anything; they just need guidance and structure.
Structure includes classrooms consisting of 20 students per teacher, compared with the usual 40-to-1 ratios in traditional high schools. Students complete their homework and projects on computers while at school, where they can receive help if they need it. As part of the program, students meet individually and in group sessions with an on-site counselor. They also are encouraged to keep a journal, which they share with thecounselor.
The second part of the program, the Intern Learning Program, gives students the opportunity to work at local businesses, allowing them to develop skills and interests. The students receive a small amount of money, which is paid by the city, for their labor. Students choose their jobs from a list of participating businesses and work at the site twice a week throughout the school year. They also learn how to complete applications, write a rsum and interview.
The school district helps fund and maintain the school site, which is separate from other schools in the district. It also provides academic guidelines in concurrence with area high schools, and helps enroll, refer and track students. The city pays for the licensed counselor; field trips; special events; dance, karate and art classes; recognition luncheons for students; computer and school supplies; and bus passes for students, who travel from all over the district to attend the school. The Los Angeles County Office of Education administers the program and provides staff and school supplies.
We help rebuild the students, focusing on building good self-esteem, achieving good grades and acquiring good family skills, Michelstein says. Our goals are to have these students take control of their destinies and mainstream them back into the high school educational system. We teach them that all of their goals are attainable.
This article was written by George Caravalho, city manager for Santa Clarita, and Jessica Coleman, PIO intern.