The first impression Salvador made on us when we entered our alternative education program was quiet reservation. He sits in the corner and keeps to himself, rarely doing much. Sal came to us three years ago in a way that some would find unusual – through the tribunal. Here, the tribunal is like a disciplinary hearing. Its extreme end result could be permanent expulsion; Often not hearing gives the student the opportunity for long-term suspension and they go to an alternative school.
In Sal’s case, he was charged with a felony and the resulting hearing put him on our program, specifically designed for students in similar situations. One of our fees was that the school was never interested in school and just figured out how to get a degree while it hung. The second is to help him determine what success looks like after graduation. At least one thing was clear: the traditional course load of college preparation classes was not the solution. We needed to try something more.
A new way
Our program is known as the MAPs, Marietta Alternative Placement and Services program, and is named for our Georgia district northwest of Atlanta. It was designed as a way for students to obtain a higher secondary diploma through disciplinary hearings or student waivers and to develop skills for reintegration into general education, workforce or higher education. A large percentage of MAP students have criminal records and belong to gangs. Often it is the final stop for students; Only roads or prisons are left.
This situation has been experienced by many students in the United States. When a four-year college degree is not desirable or realistic, schools need to find new ways, which will depend on the students and their interests. Over the years, exploring that path has built a relationship of trust and some good times in state law focused on career and technical training.
Usually, the first order of our business is to appeal to families for help. Sal was hired as an English language learner and we knew his family was not comfortable using English. We asked the parent advocate, a bilingual district representative, who works as a trip for family and schools, to arrange a meeting to discuss its possibilities.
It was a good decision. After that, Sal’s behavior was completely reversed. He worked at school every day, asking questions and doing his best work from arrival to dismissal. When one of us, Farhat, the director of the MAPS program, asked him about the sudden change, he simply replied that we were the first to contact his parents and speak their language.
Later, his mother told us that work and language barriers have made parental involvement difficult. “Hispanic just graduated,” she said. “They just make it through Cs and Ds and graduate with a basic diploma and do a dead end job.” She wanted more for her son.
Frequent issues for our program always come up. MAP students are not traditional; Getting a college preparation diploma is not a straight line to success. They need viable options other than college. Salvador will never benefit from a piece of paper. This is where Georgia Senate Bill 2 applies.
Senate Bill 2, Or SB2, known as a high school postsecondary graduation opportunity, is an alternative way of graduating, where students can earn a technical certificate or career tech diploma while completing high school. SB2 first became available to Georgia students in 2015 and allows students to take courses through double enrollment and So train Welders, auto repair tech, nurse aids, childhood specialists and more.
Between 2014 and 2018, job postings requiring a high school diploma, vocational training or associate degree increased by 28 percent, compared with Georgia’s total job postings growth of 63 and 71 percent, respectively. The need for alternatives other than college preparation is evident in Georgia, and programs like MAP have been popularized by students who have had little success in college preparation courses. We saw SB2 as an opportunity for student success and offered it to students who didn’t really know what to expect, but sincerely thought it was going to be a turning point for our event.
The main selling point for students like Sal is that the high school curriculum is cut in half and students can learn trades or skills and use college resources to find profitable jobs while still in school. The double enrollment program is a saving grace for at-risk students; It is common for MAP students at the age of 17 to enroll in our program with less than two high school credits and a limited time before exiting the system. In most cases, students in that position have lost hope and motivation, and see very little reason to continue school. At this point, they are looking for a job, sometimes any job. SB2 provides inspiration and hope, as evidenced by Sal.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, the biggest fear was that this population, who had been neglected throughout their academic careers, would close down and lose all the progress they had made. MAPs was the first event to bring students back to class due to our low enrollment and ability to maintain proper social distance. But in the meantime, to keep track, Sal would go to the director’s house for school work or one of his teachers would go to his house. This bond was to be opened on the night of the year. Farhat remembers a late-night text on the Sal leaves telling him about his hopes and dreams of running a custom auto shop and building a low-rider pick-up truck, to cater to his family in the US and Mexico. It was hard not to personalize this relationship and find a true way to sal with these feelings.
We met frequently to discuss the situation of the year but to talk about SB2. While this is new to us, we realized that MAP students can be a powerful motivator for staying in school, graduating, and achieving their goals. The MAPs program has a long history of collaborating with families, school administrators and community stakeholders to help change students ’lives. For both of us, life experiences have helped us understand what the dangers are if we let kids like Sal fall apart. It’s all about motivating students who traditionally have no one in their corner to fight.
For Sal, SB2 was a perfect fit. He did not need a second year of algebra or British literature; He needed technical skills to pursue his path. Now he was able to get a technical certificate in auto shop and welding while completing high school. The life of the year turned completely. He completed probation and attended all of his regular therapy sessions. He worked diligently on his high school needs and took the big step of going to college on his own at the age of 16, through double enrollment, attending classes in an unfamiliar place with adults.
Alternative learning should never be a neglected version of education. The case of the year shows that new avenues are opening up for students who are willing to work. Currently, we have six students in the double enrollment pipeline. We now have a working partnership with local technical colleges for eligible and aspiring students. We are working behind the scenes at the district and state level to give students more options for technical certifications.
No one waits for our students to be privileged on their path to success. They have hard enough choices in their lives. The more options their schools can offer for their future, the more success stories we will see. And for them, success is everything.