Inside California Education: Educating At-Risk Students
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Inside California Education: Educating At-Risk Students

♪♪ Jacob:”what happened was
I gave a kid a taser, and then he got
caught with it. And then he snitched
me out, told the cop that I had given it to him,
and, ah, I got sent here.” Jason: I would hear that
Orange Grove was like a bunch of bad kids,
fighting every day, all this bad stuff about
Orange Grove. Andrea: I was scared to
come here, honestly. The things that my
teachers at my old school would tell me about
Orange Grove… I just had like the
thought in my head that this school was going to
be trouble, you know? Jacob: What I had heard
was like um a whole bunch of scary people come here
and all that. So I was scared when I
first got here. I was like that quiet kid. Jim: Truancy. Substance
Abuse. Poverty. Homelessness. These are some of the
difficult realities that lead thousands of
California students to end up at one of the state’s
467 continuation schools. The educators who are
laboring to turn around these troubled young lives
say….they’ve been battling these realities
for decades. Kenny: The first thing,
what I thought was . . . different when I first
came here was the kids coming just to eat. That was an eye-opening
experience for me. Andrew: Punishments don’t
teach behavior. They don’t teach you
anything. They suppress behavior. And if there was any shred
of evidence that that worked, we would be
out of business. Because these students
have been punished to the nth degree. Jim: Students searching
for a way to break the cycle turn to tiny Orange
Grove High School student body, fewer
than 200. Jason: I stopped
going to school. I had like a bunch
of anxiety, I started to self-harm
myself. And you know like my
grades caught up with that and I had like a
bunch of F’s. And then I went to my
SARD meeting with Dr. Ilic
and he was there and they said the best place for me
would be Orange Grove. Jim: Dr. Mike Ilic and his
office are charged with the difficult task of
finding solutions for troubled kids that work
for them, their families, and their schools. Sometimes, that solution
means coming here to Orange Grove for a
semester, or for years. Mike: There’s a
changing face in continuation education. It’s not like the old days
where you put out the teachers that you don’t
like any more and the principals that are just
right on the edge of retiring, and they’re
ineffective, and they’re all at the
continuation school. Joe: We were responding to
their behavior instead of the causes of
their behavior. We needed to step back and
look at why were the kids behaving
the way they were… …understanding that most
of our kids come from backgrounds where they’ve
suffered multiple traumas in life. Kenny: I don’t have
teachers here or staff here that that have
to be here, that are miserable and
knocking down the door to get out… They have tons of love. They just open up their
hearts to their kids and try and find out what
their social and emotional needs are. Mike: it’s extremely
important that the principals who take over
those schools are principals who want
to be there. Not to just be put there,
but they have to be there, they have to have
the passion, they have to have
the vision. And those principals
need to hire their own teachers. Jessie: If you were going to say
here rests resentment. You would say full of
heaviness and a weight on my shoulders that I don’t
want to carry anymore. Jim: Jessie Fuller is
the California League of School’s 2016 Educator
of the Year. In her first class, she
has her students creating “tombstones” and eulogies
to bury bad habits. In another class, an
exercise in the Socratic method for hashing out
issues – an inner circle, an outer circle, a
facilitator. Jessie: So Chad makes
the point. . . Andrea: …she’s
probably my favorite because she’s like a 2nd
mother to me. I feel like I can always
talk to her about stuff that isn’t even
about school, like if I need advice
about something, or help, I know she’ll always be
there for me. Jessie: Our kids,
I feel like they’re so, literally, just one step
away from dropping out, or a lot of times like
prison for our kids… we talk about disruption
of the school to prison pipeline right? I think about this is
very real ’cause we see like a kid’s here one day
and oh what happened to them and oh, they’re
locked up. You, know like it’s so
real here. So to disrupt that you
have to do something very different from what the
norm has been. Andrew: They might not
act like it but our students want consistency.
They want consistency. They want someone who’s
going to show up every day and be fair to everybody. For our most at risk
students, the most at risk of the
most at risk, and we try to create a
nurturing environment which is try to get them
back on track, not just educationally but
in life. Jim: Recognizing that
and paying for it are challenges not just
for Orange Grove, but California schools
in general. Things may be starting to
improve, in 2014, the state’s Local Control
and Accountability Plan “LCAP” and a new
funding formula offered school districts more say
in teaching and funding for disadvantaged
students. Mike: Our state’s
taken a bigger approach to some of the
socio-emotional pieces and part of it’s because of a
new funding system with the LCAP and LCFF. Because we’re looking at
low socio-economic kids, we’re looking at
foster kids, and we’re looking at
English learners. And continuation schools
have a higher percentage of those kids, so we
really need to try and support those kids. Jim: Even so, per-student
spending here in the Corona Norco district
remains slightly below the state average. The Orange Grove staff
says more funding would be money wisely spent. Joe: If we have to spend 15
grand on a rehab facility, that’s money well-spent if
it keeps us from spending another $240,000
throughout the rest of their life because
they’re incarcerated. Jim: Kenny Torres believes
a few of those dollars would help his kids open
up not just a textbook, but their whole world. Kenny: A lot of these kids
haven’t been out of the 3-mile, square mile radius
their entire life. And for us yeah
some may say “that’s not the
school’s role.” But to us,
we believe it is. Jessie: Just ask a kid
“what school do you want to go to?” They’re like, “I’m not
going to make it to college.” But take a group of kids
to a high ropes course on a college campus,
eat in the cafeteria, and the kids are like
“how do you get here?” Jim: This weekend, a
cookout for hungry students may be coming out
of the school’s thin pocketbook. Kenny: “…I’ll text you
this week about getting that stuff for
barbecue…” Jason: I felt like if
wouldn’t have came here I would have just kept going
and I would have failed. Probably dropped out. I’m glad I didn’t, though. Oh yeah. I got A Pluses. Just got it like a few
days ago. Andrea: …it’s just more
like a family here than at a regular high school, and
it makes feel more comfortable and it makes
we want to come to school. Jacob: After graduation
I want to go to college. I want to go to a 2-year,
which would be… I was looking at, um… Chafee College? And then I want to
transfer to a 4-year, which I don’t know which
4-year yet. So I need to figure
that out. Mike: We can’t control
what happens outside our sphere of influence. But if we have them for 6
hours we can do something. We can teach them the
social skills. We can teach them that
they can break the cycle that’s been going on maybe
for several generations in their families. We can do that and
we have to do that. It’s socially imperative
that we do that. ♪♪ Annc: The history of
continuation education is closely aligned with
compulsory schooling in the United States. Massachusetts in 1852 was
the first state to require children to attend
public school. Other states followed, and
by 1919 California passed a compulsory education law
for students up to the age of 16. That same year, California
established its first continuation school to
offer an alternative schedule for students
who held jobs.

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2 thoughts on “Inside California Education: Educating At-Risk Students

  1. This kids deserve as much of a chance as the smart kids. I go to a continuation school and tbh with you these kids have more passions than those so called “smart kids”

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