By Jackie HOUCHIN
On June 6, 215 jubilant “at risk” students from the San Gabriel District Options For Youth Public Charter School received high school diplomas – some graduating with honors – in an exuberant, emotion-packed ceremony at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Thirty of those graduates were from La Crescenta Options For Youth, one of seven centers in the charter school, located in the 3000 block of Foothill Boulevard.
From the impressive graduation speeches and glowing student testimonials, it appeared to all that the OFY Charter School program works. But who are these at risk students? And how does Options For Youth help them succeed?
According to OFY Deputy Superintendent Bill Toomey, these are students who struggle to fit in and don’t do well in a traditional high school setting. They have either fallen behind in credits so they are at risk of failing or have already dropped out.
The reasons are many from students who are being bullied, have unplanned pregnancies, are single or teen parents to those with learning disabilities, behavioral issues or in the juvenile justice system. Typically they are from low-income, minority families. A few have full-time jobs or obligations that prevent them from attending regular classes, such as Hollywood actors.
Kids without high school diplomas often end up unemployed and on welfare. Two-thirds of all prison inmates are dropouts.
“We want to ‘recover’ these kids and either catch them up so they can return to their traditional home school or graduate them here,” Toomey said.
OFY offers a non-traditional learning environment – similar to a school library or study hall – where students can progress at their own pace. They do most of their work at home on their own time, meeting one-on-one with their teachers a minimum of twice a week for an hour to have their work reviewed and to be tested. This approach encourages responsibility and self-discipline.
Students are required to pass all necessary state coursework and exams in order to graduate. When extra support is needed they can be tutored or attend a small group instruction with an accredited teacher. The La Crescenta center is in the process of expanding, adding another classroom for this purpose.
Even though there are 250 students enrolled at the La Crescenta center, there are only about 30 to 40 students present at one time. Five teachers, a resource specialist for special education students and a student advisor are available to them.
Asked if they have discipline problems, Toomey, who has been working with at risk kids for 14 years, responded, “Not really. Students aren’t here for long periods of time, and there aren’t the social and negative distractions like in a mega-school setting.”
As graduate Laura Fluegeman put it, “There are no nerds, jocks or mean girls; only kids who refuse to give up on themselves.”
Students are referred to the La Crescenta center by LAUSD (Verdugo High or Eagle Rock) or by the Glendale or San Gabriel school districts and can be enrolled at any time throughout the year as long as they are under 19 and reading at a seventh grade level. Enrollment is free.
Students attend OFY schools by choice meaning they must truly want to be there and are required to sign a contract stating their commitment to earning a high school diploma. Sadly, some don’t finish but the success rate at the La Crescenta OFY center is 80%.
Options For Youth Charter Schools, including the La Crescenta site, are fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and meet the University of California course standards.
Graduates can go on to colleges, trade schools, the military, or employment.