This Conversation with Hillary Brandt and Keith Spencer at the Encina Preparatory High School took place May 8 and was posted on the AdvancePath blog.
Teacher Keith Spencer has been with the Encina Preparatory High School – AdvancePath Academy since opening day in 2010. He has worked side by side with the Academy’s teaching team and students and has counseled many young people along the way. For Keith, one student, Hillary Brandt stood out – at first, perhaps, not for all the best reasons. Keith recalls, “Hillary came to us in the fall of 2010 with only two classes completed, just 27 credits earned. The rest of her credits were for partial completions. Her reading ability was at about a 5th grade comprehension level, and her demeanor was angry.”
Fast forward to May 2012. Hillary Brandt today is a positive young lady considered a leader among her peers in the classroom. And she has plenty to smile about. Hillary is planning to graduate on June 6 with her class from Encina Preparatory High School. Through her studies in the AdvancePath Academy her GPA has progressed from a starting point of 2.0 to 3.41 and she now has firm plans to attend college in August.
We sat with Hillary and Keith to learn directly from them, how this turnaround occurred.
Q. What was school like for you before you entered the Encina Preparatory High School – AdvancePath Academy?
Hillary: “I started with a bad attitude. I was angry much of the time and got into fights. I didn’t focus on school and it showed. I didn’t accomplish much in school.”
Q. What changed? Why did you decide to enroll in the Academy?
Hillary: “Mr. Spencer had a very long talk with me and told me I needed to check my attitude and where it was taking me. He told me to look into my future and did I like where I was going? I didn’t. I did not want to be like other people I know who haven’t found a good job, who can’t keep a job and aren’t going anywhere. I didn’t want to be like them.”
Keith: “I must have given that speech a thousand times to many kids, but Hillary listened. Hillary took the initiative and started to come round.”
Q. What was it about the Academy that worked for you?
Hillary: “Coming here and getting more support made a major difference.”
Keith: “Don’t think it was all easy going. The first two semesters with us were very difficult for Hillary because the learning curve was so steep. In the initial assessment of her skills, we noted that Hillary’s reading comprehension was below par, requiring immediate intervention. Things really started to change as she passed her courses. Every time she passed a class her attitude became more positive. As Hillary gained confidence through the program, her attitude became contagious – she set an example – she became a leader in the room. The other kids saw her success and learned that learning is doable.”
Q. What was different for you in the Academy compared with your earlier high school studies?
Hillary: “The teachers were right there every time. They actually sat there and talked to me about everything I didn’t understand. One-on-one instruction really helped. I could learn at my own pace. When it came to figuring things out, in the traditional class, I was left to myself. At AdvancePath Academy you never get behind.”
Keith: “Something that helped Hillary came right away. She was very weak in language arts and so her first classes were English requirements. This helped twofold: it aided her language comprehension and that in turn helped with all other classes. Once she had that skill, her abilities in other classes just took off. Reading wasn’t such a big deal anymore – she knew how to pick out contextual clues. She figured out how to go to school about half-way through her high school career and now, she’s learning exponentially.
In a traditional setting, even if the student is trying, if he/she isn’t ‘getting it,’ the class doesn’t have the ability to wait – if you can’t keep up you might as well be done with it. In the Academy, utilizing computer-assisted instruction and letting teachers guide the process as facilitators puts the student at the center of learning; skill sets are reinforced with small group experiences and students can work through problems in a one-on-one setting. The sum total of all of this is the breaking down of attitudinal barriers to learning – allowing the student to master the course material.”
Q. What do you like about school now?
Hillary: The school schedule – you get a lot done within the four-hour schedule. It gave me the opportunity to work around my ‘ROP’( Regional Occupational Program) work experience elective. I want to work. My schedule gives me the chance to focus completely on my schoolwork and still have time to go to work.”
Keith: The ‘ROP’ is half the school day and the Academy instructional time is the other half of the school day for many students like Hillary.
Hillary: “I also like learning with a computer. When the computer is right here in front of you, it’s easier to focus. It keeps me focused.
Q. How did the Academy help you change your attitude and help you become a young lady with plans and goals? What are your plans?
Hillary: “I see the world differently. When I get to school, I’m like I can do this and I just sit down and do it. I have more motivation right now to do what I want to do. I put more thought into what I do. I know what I need to do for me.
When I have a problem and need a short break, I can take it; I allow myself the chance to get it back together. And when I start back up, the computer always opens to where you left off. The computer and my teachers always show me how far I’ve come – and what’s next to be learned.”
Keith: “All the kids hit bumps. Hillary’s humps were very small – maybe an hour every month, where she felt like she couldn’t do it anymore. To her credit, she didn’t let the burden of fears or impatience bring her down. She stayed on task and met her personal goals.”
Hillary: I will probably remember everything I was told by my teachers here at the Academy and I definitely know how far I’ve come. I didn’t know I was so smart. Now, I really want to get a job.
It used to be I will live with my mom forever, I won’t get a job. I am going to finish high school and go on to school to become a hygienist. My main goal is to find work. I’m starting at Sacramento City College August 25 in the dental hygienist program.”
Q: You know the date you’re starting your occupational training?
Hillary: “Oh yes I do!”
Hillary (with a laugh): “As long as you keep your mind to it, you can do it. I never thought I was going to say that!”
Hillary Brandt will be joining the ranks of San Juan Unified’s graduates. She will begin the next step in her training later this year with the support of her teachers and close family members. In addition to her teacher Keith Spencer, Hillary also wanted to thank all her teachers at the Encina Academy: “Thanks Ms. Angela Damian and Ms. Ivy Akbari! Without Ms. Akbari I probably wouldn’t have passed math. Ivy Akabar, Instructional Aide at the Academy, would explain math to me as many times as I needed – she sat every day and gave me the how and why and made me work through the problems. I got through the algebra.
I am also thankful for my family. My mom, Sarah Gallow, supports everything I do. My grandmom Nona Boyd is a science teacher at Foothill Senior High School in Sacramento. She’s really excited about my graduation and continuing studies. She screams, “Yea!” every time I tell her about my accomplishments. She put off surgery just so she could go to my graduation. I am graduating on June 6 with the class at Encina.”
“Hillary’s story is certainly a credit to her and all who helped her,” states John Murray, Chairman and CEO of AdvancePath Academics, Inc.
AdvancePath Academics, Inc., a national provider of alternative learning environments for at-risk high school students, works in partnership with School Districts across the U.S. AdvancePath has proudly supported the mission of the San Juan Unified School District since 2010, with the opening of its first Academy at Encina Preparatory High School. In AdvancePath Academies, instruction is tailored to the student’s personal learning style – accelerating course mastery and credit earning. Computer-assisted instruction with one-on-one and small group experiences support learning, with personal attention provided by certified, specially trained San Juan Unified teaching staff.
The Academy offers an alternative learning environment for students who are struggling or have become credit deficient within the traditional high school setting. At the Academy, students work at their own pace, at their own computer work-station, with the support of a highly qualified teacher. Students typically study and complete two courses at a time, with instruction supported by self-paced online learning, individualized one-on-one and small group instruction. The courses meet all San Juan Unified and state curricula standards and students receive high school credit upon completion of each course. Students attend the academy four hours per day, five days per week in either a morning or afternoon session.
Today, with Academies on the campus of Encina Preparatory High School and at New San Juan High School, students once at risk of dropping out are now engaged in learning and have new-found confidence in their personal and scholastic achievements.
To date, nearly 100 students in these Academies are graduates in the San Juan Unified School District and hold the San Juan USD high school diploma.
Disclosure: Tom is a director of AdvancePath