12/11/2013 11:36:00 AM Commentary Yavapai County accommodation school students set own pace
Submitted by Robert Gitlin, English teacher Yavapai Accommodation School District
Aspire Junior/Senior High School became Yavapai County's second "accommodation school" when it opened last year on Centerpointe Drive in Prescott. The first county school, Yavapai County High School on Baja Circle in Prescott Valley, has been around for 10 years.
Unlike the original accommodation school, a one-room facility, Aspire is a mini "regular" school with a hallway and classrooms.
"We take away excuses of young people who fall through the cracks of traditional schools," said County Superintendent Tim Carter.
A growing number of academic performers attend by choice, said Robert Gitlin, English teacher. Dan Coulter, academic advisor at Aspire, estimates about 220 students have graduated from the two schools in the 10 years of the system.
"It's not just for kids who can't handle public school, who mess up," student Bailey Gumm said. "It's people who want to go somewhere, want to show the people who didn't believe in them."
Student Savanah Tussing said computerized instruction works better for social studies and science than for math and English. She also likes the personal attention she gets from teachers. "You can go at your own pace and finish faster than if you were stuck in some boring old class with a teacher lecturing you all the time," she said.
Teachers use a mix of teaching instruction in the online classes. Chuck Newell's science class finds students dissecting rhino beetles. Harold Lopez' social studies class watches a video on Martin Luther King.
Some students struggle to make it to school because of their home life, said Anita Fry, special education director. "We have kids that lived in their car all night because there's no parent, and they got to school."
Some students take five years or more to get through high school, which can negatively affect the school's rating with the Arizona Department of Education, said Jim Taylor, director of instructional services. He mixes toughness and fairness in dealing with sometimes confrontational students.
It's a balancing act to hold students accountable for their actions or lack of actions, and at the same time offer extra encouragement and support, he added.
"We keep an eye on our kids; they feel safe here," Coulter said. "Their parents feel their kids are safe here, and they recommend us to other parents. These kids need more than a lecture, a homework assignment, and a test every Friday."