School within a school system turns into new course to prevent high school dropouts

Mrs.+Debra+Perry+helps+Freshman+Purity+Kagiri+with+her+essay+in+the+success+center.+Photo+by+Abby+Blitz

Mrs. Debra Perry helps Freshman Purity Kagiri with her essay in the success center. Photo by Abby Blitz

Ji-Sung Lee

With a vision to be the “best school district in the state,” Columbia Public Schools (CPS) has tweaked and adjusted its methods to meet this goal since its beginnings. As the school board has adopted a mission statement that says CPS “will provide an excellent education for all,” some of its goals are to help students graduate with the necessary skills to enroll in college and to decrease out of school suspensions.  
With these high standards and values, it only fits that new adjustments to meet these needs have become a focus for all administrators.
Since May of 2015 CPS have made efforts to reinforce the district’s goals by allowing a more diverse group of people to have the opportunity to thrive at school, Assistant Principal Dr. Lisa Nieuwenhuizen said.  Though this new structure was originally introduced to the public as a “school-within-a-school,” things have taken a turn.
Rather than adapting this “school-within-a-school” system, Dr. Nieuwenhuizen said the concept was turned into a course.  The new development has a dedicated group of teachers at RBHS, including Marla Clowe, Daryl Moss and  Melissa Coil, that collaborates to support students.
“The proposed structure of a school-within-a-school was not adopted.  It was never tried. We opted for the freshman seminar to provide daily support to students without taking them away from their peers in the school-within-a-school model,” Dr. Nieuwenhuizen said. “Instead, we have created a daily class that provides support in executive functioning skills, problem-solving, conflict resolution and study habits.”
Dr. Nieuwenhuizen said the program is geared toward those who show signs of disinterest or poor grades.
While the establishment of the course was for the benefit of students who may have been thinking of dropping out, students such as sophomore Daniel Schroeder said this system could be of help to others, as well.
“The program would be an overdue addition to the school system,”  sophomore Daniel Schroeder said.  “It’s possible the mature behavior needed in an adult life might not be advertised in environments away from school, in which case the school’s program would serve to remedy the problem.”
While RBHS may have a number of students who can benefit from this program, Schroeder believes this developing system needs specific attributes for it to be able to accomplish its purpose.
“In order for this program to be a success, the school system needs to understand that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all matter,” Schroeder said.  “Everyone is different and these differences need to be accounted for in order for the program to be worthwhile.  In essence it needs to be less structured like a class and more so like a club.”
Dr. Nieuwenhuizen said a year and four months into this adjusted program, the results are just as administrators expected, with increased participation and self control improvement in the students.
“Students have developed close personal relationships with their teachers, and they are being successful in attending school,”  she said.  “They are attending school every day and attending every class. Also, we have noticed a decrease in discipline/behavior referrals.”
Senior Michelle Wu, a student who takes many honors and advanced placement classes, said she sees this system as a way to boost those who might find such structure necessary to aid their learning.
“It’s beneficial because it gives a second chance to people who are slightly behind their peers,” Wu said.  “It is important that everyone gets the opportunity to get an education, [but] I haven’t noticed any differences.  I think our school has always been good about helping students who have a hard time in school by providing them with extra help.”
Although the system is differently structured than its first intentions, improvements have been made toward gaining higher graduation rates and attendance.  These positive reactions can only be a step in the right direction, Dr. Nieuwenhuizen said.
As the the system works to meets needs for students, administrators, teachers and students hope the extra attention and support can encourage teens to engage in their school work.
“I’m no advocate for a public system infringing on personal matter such as behavior,” Schroeder said. “However, teaching is necessary for success later in life.”