Lakota’s new Career Readiness Academy is the definition of personalized education.
“The model allows students to work entirely at their own pace,” said Nicole Isaacs, the leader of the district’s new high school alternative program open to both Lakota East and West ninth- through twelfth-graders. “Every student who walks through our doors has the same goal – to graduate on time and formulate a plan for what happens after that. But how they get there can look very different.”
The program’s first cohort to start the program this school year includes 57 students who report daily for either the morning or afternoon session. For the three hours they are on site, they work mostly on their own and with the one-on-one support of the program’s academic team: an assistant principal, two teachers, an intervention specialist and a career advisor. They spend another 15 hours each week logged in from home, working through their lessons and assignments, usually one class at a time.
During those hours, students are following an individualized plan that takes into account where they are in their path toward graduation. It considers credit requirements, post-graduation plans and even the personal circumstances directing a student’s schedule. It’s what each student maps out at the very start of their Academy experience.
“Even before their first official day, we talk about their interests and then come up with a plan for what it’s going to take to support their long-term goals,” Isaacs said. “They are held to exactly the same standards and credit requirements as any other Lakota high school student. It’s one of the most important facets of the program that every diploma carries the same weight.”
The Student Profile
Such an individualized approach explains why the Academy’s so-called student profile is far from “cookie cutter.” For some, like Lakota East junior Shelby Longworth, the smaller environment conquers the social challenges that come with attending a large high school.
“School used to give me bad anxiety, to the point that I’d leave early or not go at all when I was on main campus,” Shelby said. “But being here has grounded me and helped me focus on my own priorities.”
For others, the flexible work schedule allows students to fulfill personal obligations that tend to compete with the traditional school day, like work or medical care, for example. And still, for many others, the access to one-on-one teacher support and a pace that matches their own allows them to catch up on credits and sometimes even graduate early.
Lakota East senior Cameron Anderson came to the Academy needing an overwhelming 17 credits to graduate. Halfway through the year, he’s already chipped away at more than half of them, putting him back on track to graduate with his class. Just as important is the sense of direction he’s gained through the program’s focus on career readiness.
“I always just assumed I’d go right into an entry-level job, get my own apartment and just do the minimum,” Anderson said. That was before he realized his potential to succeed in college. His plans now include a major in marketing and business at Cincinnati State.
Signs of Success
The Academy’s career advisor is just one piece to the program’s goal of exposing students to different post-graduation career paths and developing the soft skills required of any job. The program’s curriculum regularly incorporates college and career panels and is even helping connect students with internship opportunities as one way to earn credit.
In their first semester, Academy students completed a collective 140 classes. This helped the program graduate its first two graduates and move many others along in their path to graduation.
Better attendance is another success indicator of the program so far. Students’ collective attendance rate during first semester was 85 percent, as compared to 59 percent the semester prior. The same goes for discipline cases. The Academy has seen a 50 percent decrease among their students in discipline incidents.
“Eliminating those kinds of distractions has an astounding impact on a student’s academic success,” Isaacs said.
During its pilot year, the Academy is situated in a space right off the cafeteria of Lakota West’s main campus. A separate entrance and workspace give it the feel of a separate school, but with just enough ties to main campus to keep students connected to and benefiting from the many resources of their home school.
Lakota West senior Payton Porterfield, for example, continues to take advantage of Lakota’s athletic program, playing on both the basketball and football teams. The Academy has helped him stay eligible for both. He also appreciates the ease with which he can still talk with his guidance counselor or coaches. All the same opportunities and resources available to main campus students also apply to Academy students.
“It’s that smaller environment within a larger one that gives them the best of both worlds,” Isaacs said. “It’s that sense of family and community we’re able to create here that makes some students feel more comfortable and accountable. It’s a model that just works better for some and it’s great that Lakota has that kind of option available.”
To increase its capacity and reach, the Academy will be moving next school year to the larger space that currently serves as the location for Wokini Academy, an alternative high school program operated by Butler Tech and changing focus next year. Located directly in front of the Lakota West Freshman School, this is a better location for serving students from both sides of the district. The program will continue to grow its opportunities for students, especially in the area of career readiness.
Any interested student should talk with his or her home school guidance counselor about Lakota’s alternative school option and enrollment options.
Top Photo: Lakota West sophomore Sierra Durante (left) works side-by-side with Career Readiness Academy instructor Amanda Garibay. The Academy’s structure allows for more one-on-one assistance as students are working through their classes at their own pace.
Bottom Photo: Lakota West sophomore Shaelyn Abner (right) talks with Career Readiness Academy Assistant Principal Nicole Isaacs (left).