Friday, May 25 , 2018, 4:32 pm | Fair 65º


John Daly: The Academy Connecting Lives and Teaching Success

The Academy for Success’ 2015 graduating class at Dos Pueblos High School. Click to view larger
The Academy for Success’ 2015 graduating class at Dos Pueblos High School. (Kelly Choi photo)

On May 29, I had the wonderful fortune to attend the graduation ceremony for The Academy for Success. My heart was filled with joy and my eyes full of tears as I watched 25 amazing students walk onto the stage and be acknowledged by their teachers, much in the same way as you will read below.

I have had the absolute joy and pleasure to be able to work with this group of students for two years, and my buttons were bursting with pride for their accomplishment. It really is a testament to what offering a hand to someone having a difficult time can do.

— John Daly

Estrella was broken and angry at the world. She had lost her mother to drugs, and her father abandoned her by the end of the ninth grade. She needed a safe, family-like haven such as the one The Academy for Success at Dos Pueblos High School provides.

Even though most of The Academy’s students choose to be in its program, teachers and counselors decided to bring Estrella into it. In a few short months of participation and seeing an Academy therapist, she began to trust the adults in the program and to visualize her own potential.

She could see what her life could become, and her transformation began.

Estrella took every opportunity that was offered her. An internship was available, and she applied and was selected. She began to represent The Academy program as a guest speaker for public events. She shared her personal story to strangers, and it was extraordinary.

She took advantage of the skills and beliefs the program offers and made them her own. As a result, she applied for a part-time job and was hired. Then she took the huge step of applying to CSU Channel Islands with the hope of helping children who feel alone.

Estrella’s drastic transformation is a miraculous example of a person being able to channel anger into drive, hurt into trust, a broken spirit into healthy friendships. Through the work she took advantage of at The Academy, Estrella has evolved to a point where she sees herself clearly. She will be someone who will succeed and contribute to the Santa Barbara community.

Academy Overview

What made all of this possible is The Academy, a three-year plan established in 2008 to provide students who have been unsuccessful in the school system with the personalized attention and support necessary to be successful in both school and life. These students stay with their peer group and Academy teachers until graduation.

The program connects students to school and community through strong personal relationships, an innovative academic program, internship opportunities and partnerships with organizations throughout Santa Barbara. The ultimate goal is for these students to graduate and become productive, responsible citizens with a comprehensive life plan.

Eligible students are identified in the ninth grade by low GPAs, poor attendance, high suspensions and discipline incidents, along with teacher, counselor and administrator recommendations. Eligibility requires students to not be involved in any other support program, such as special education or EL.

The three-year program begins for students at the start of 10th grade and involves a carefully planned schedule for each student. Each morning, students travel as a group to each of four core college prep classes of English, math, science and social studies taught by Academy teachers.

Afternoons are filled with guided studies courses in which the students are paired with student mentors who provide tutoring, organizational skills and weekly grade checks. Students participate in one elective of choice in a regular classroom.

Academy students receive weekly counseling classes geared toward identifying beliefs, setting goals and creating strategies for coping. They have the choice to see a counselor one-on-one during school hours or to meet in smaller groups for counseling.

Like Estrella, all students have the opportunity to apply for local internships through the nonprofit Santa Barbara Partners in Education, which matches them with community businesses so they can explore career experiences. Job shadowing is also offered to them.

The Outcome

Since 2008, The Academy has achieved measurable results.

» 100 percent graduation rate

» 92 percent enrollment in post-secondary schools

» Grade-point averages increased to a 2.90 from a 1.41, going to Cs and Bs from Fs, in more rigorous, college-prep classes

» Discipline referrals reduced to a 95 percent improvement of their pre-Academy level

» All attend school regularly

» 60 percent have been placed in successful internships or have an after-school job

» 50 percent of students do one-on-one counseling once a week

» Academy students have participated in ASB Leadership class, on varsity sports and cheer, and in clubs, all showing their re-engagement into school and their lives

» One Academy student was named “Student of the Year” by Goleta’s Finest for her ability to overcome personal obstacles and reach a 4.0 GPA

» Students have been able to return to school from pregnancy and alternative school settings and graduate on time

The most notable changes, however, are those that have been observed, not measured. Academy students are more confident, take pride in their work and look forward to a successful life outside of high school.

Mark is a great case-in point. He started the program as a truant who was making poor, unhealthy personal choices. His lack of attendance was directly related to his emotional well-being.

Once Mark trusted the adults in the program, he began to take advantage of every opportunity offered him. He went from high truancy to regular daily attendance. He began to break unhealthy habits and began seeing a therapist within the program.

His inclusion in The Academy proved that Mark has resilience, determination and grit. His commitment to change has opened more doors for him. He began to excel as a student.

Intelligent, he had been in Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) previously, showing all the qualities of a college-bound student. He started to produce exceptional work and transformed into a student seeking out information, asking though-provoking and insightful questions. He began to push his teachers to give him more opportunities.

As a result, Mark currently is enrolled in an AP English class and a Santa Barbara City College Dual Enrollment Math class, while working a part-time job. He has already been accepted to his dream school at the University of Nevada, Reno.

News on the Horizon

The Academy has successfully begun the process of starting a new group at San Marcos High School. Yet again, The Academy, like The Key Class, is making a difference in the Santa Barbara community.

An investment in The Academy will change the lives of these teenagers, who will give back to the community rather than tax it. Historically, they stay in our community as reinvented individuals. Your investment in them will help graduate educated, literate, skilled and responsible citizens of Santa Barbara and Goleta.

Click here to make an online investment in The Academy. Click here for more information about The Academy for Success, or email The Academy’s director, Kelly Choi, at [email protected].

— John Daly is the founder and president of The Key Class, the go-to guide for good manners and job search success. Click to learn more about The Key Class, or to buy the book.  Follow John on Facebook and Twitter @johnjdalyjr. Do you have an etiquette question? ASK John at [email protected] The opinions expressed are his own.

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