ASSETS HIGH SCHOOL: Program Description
Our students are bright; many struggle with some aspect of academics, executive function, impulse control, and/or socialization. While learning profiles vary, a vast majority of our students have experienced hardship of some kind in their previous setting and required something “different.” Many simply yearn to be understood or to know that they are not alone in their struggles. Consequently, tolerance for others’ challenges is a necessary requirement. We aspire to create a safe environment where students feel comfortable taking risks since learning requires this. We expect students to be positive and contributing members of the Assets community. Though we are protective of our culture and community, we are cognizant that we are dealing with adolescents and endure our share of “drama,” but have procedures in place to address issues as they arise (see “Discipline” and “Counseling” sections). Student buy-in is critical; if a student does not want to join our program, then this is not the right setting for that youngster.
In most classes other than Homeroom Advisory, there are no more than 10 students per teacher. Everyone knows everyone else. In our school, students can’t hide or fade into the woodwork. Some find this too claustrophobic; others revel in its intimacy.
The day starts and ends with Homeroom Advisory which consists of one teacher and 5-7 students. Here they are taught to use the planners that have been assigned to them. Each teacher helps students be mindful of factors (e.g., sports) that must be taken into consideration when planning their homework schedule, assist in prioritizing tasks, and work to establish realistic expectations regarding production (actual vs. predicted time spent on a given assignment).
Another of our goals is to help students know themselves as learners. We help them understand their strengths and challenges so that they will come to embrace them. We equip them with tools and strategies to work through or circumvent their challenges, and teach them to use these to ensure their success in life. We teach them how to speak to others about their learning profiles candidly and without apology. Self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-advocacy are fundamental to resilience.
Individuals with learning differences know that they will “fall” many times; getting back up each time can be hard, but resilience–inner fortitude–helps make this possible.
Teaching strategies differ between teachers and classes but are never centered solely around textbooks, lectures, or read-write formats as our students require a higher level of engagement. Teachers typically do not begin on page one and advance sequentially through a textbook until they reach the end. Rather, they review content and identify the big ideas, skills, or concepts that a student must take with him from the class. Because internet search engines allow students instantaneous access to information, we are not keen on rote recitation of minutiae and “information bulimia,” but rather are more concerned about students being able to think critically so that when they find the information they want, they are able to assess its validity then evaluate, analyze, or synthesize content. We want them to develop study and thinking skills that are applicable to any subject.
Tools for Learning There is a wide variety of tools available, many for free, that support students with challenges in reading, writing, math, attention, memory, and more. Students will learn about different applications which will enable them to “work smarter, not harder.” Examples:
- Audio books support ADHD students with strong listening comprehension as this format may capture their attention better than reading books independently. Bookshare and Learning Ally allow students with dyslexia to access text content unimpeded by word reading difficulties. Students download books onto their laptops making them conveniently accessible.
- Graphic organizers help students manage ideas for writing assignments or allow them to organize notes taken from discussions, lectures, or books. Speech-to-text programs permit students to dictate their thoughts for transcription and subsequent editing.
- Integrated text-to-speech programs “read” digitized text to students, allow them to highlighting vocabulary and ideas, contain dictionary/thesaurus functions, and offer cut-paste capability so that students can easily generate notes for studying or writing purposes. Google docs and other “cloud” apps ensure that information and assignments-in-progress remain available as long as the student has a computer and internet access so there is less need to shuffle papers which only get lost or shoved into the “black hole” also known as students’ lockers or backpacks.
1:1 Laptop Program
We’ve observed our students and found that those who have a personal laptop are much more likely to adopt tools to support their learning than students who do not have their own device. Consequently, Assets High School currently requires that all high school students bring a laptop to school daily. We recognize the challenges that come with this requirement, but we feel strongly that the benefits outweigh those challenges. While we recommend that students purchase an Apple laptop as all of our campus uses Macs, this is not a requirement. Laptops must have wireless capability and a minimum of 64GB hard drive space and 2GB of RAM. At this time, iPads or tablet devices are not an acceptable substitutes. We also would not recommend NetBooks as they do not have a CD/DVD drive and have other limitations in the amount of hard drive space and RAM (working memory).
Homework We believe that students must have sufficient time in their lives to pursue their strengths and passions; in other words, we do not believe in assigning hours upon hours of homework. We know that academic rigor is unrelated to homework load. Whatever is assigned is intended to reinforce what was taught that day in class. If the student tries to do an assignment independently but finds herself incapable, we expect her to advocate for herself by contacting her teacher by phone or email and make an appointment to meet and discuss the assignment. Teachers are often available before school and during lunch recess. If a student is feeling buried in homework despite her best efforts, students are expected to advocate for modifications or will be guided in her advocacy by her homeroom teacher as needed.
- If a student comes to class unprepared and has not contacted her teacher to ask for help, she is assigned mandatory Study Hall for that afternoon (from 3:15-4:00) or the following morning (7:00-7:40). Teachers are available to work with students if necessary. Student-athletes who have practice or a game on a day they’ve been assigned to Study Hall must forgo sports in order to meet their academic obligations.
- If a teacher observes that a student is falling behind, the teacher may mandate Study Hall to give that teacher the opportunity to work more closely with that student. As part of a time management strategy, some students assign themselves to Study Hall if they have an evening athletic or social event that will prevent them from completing their homework. Principal Suzy Travis has been known to pull students into her office to work with them individually during the school day if they fall behind.
- The day is shortened to allow time for teacher meetings after school. • Freshmen remain on campus to attend electives or special tutorials, and participate in group
- Select faculty serve as freshmen Mentors who offer them opportunities to join specialized campus-based teams and develop skills in areas such as Architecture, Entrepreneurship, Environmental Science, etc. Mirroring the experience of upperclassmen, ninth graders prepare cover letters and resumes in order to apply for positions on their chosen teams, then are interviewed by their prospective mentors. Upon successful completion of this process, students are invited to join teams with whom they work for three hours weekly from August through early April. Their experience culminates in the Mentorship Expo, a celebratory evening at which teams showcase their learning through unique presentations.
- For 10th through 12th graders, the Mentorship experience connects school to work by pairing youngsters to individuals in the community who are willing to teach a student about some aspect of his profession. Students must apply and interview for positions. From amid- September through early April, instead of coming to school, students report directly to their mentorship sites to learn relevant skills and keep a record of their experiences. For various reasons (e.g., convenience), some students have on-campus Mentorships. In April, students prepare for Mentorship Expo which brings Mentors and families to campus to learn about and celebrate the diverse experiences of our students.
- Students may stay in one area across all three years (e.g., culinary arts) but usually change sites annually (different restaurant). Some students will try completely different areas each year (e.g., education, interior decorating, culinary arts). On rare occasions, students will stay with a Mentor for more than a year. Mentorship helps students clarify their desires and interests, disabuses them of any inaccurate or unrealistic illusions they may have about a job, teaches them about what they are willing/able to do/tolerate, and has the potential to guide post high school planning. Some students secure part-time or summer jobs as a result of performing well at their placements.
Assessment of Student Learning
- We are not a pencil-and-paper driven school. Teachers allow students to demonstrate their learning in many different formats. Some teachers allow students to show what they’ve learned through visual art, oral report, poetry, music, videos, animations, simulations, and so on.
- We administer group, nationally standardized tests each spring to get an “objective” assessment of progress in general areas.
- Test scores are melded with anecdotal observations to create a Student Profile which is updated annually and includes classroom adaptations and accommodations relevant to each student.
- Student classroom progress is reported quarterly with “deficiency” notices distributed midterm to any student who is significantly underperforming. Teachers provide telephone follow-up on these notices to discuss strategies or interventions that will be implemented to support student achievement.
- Parent conferences are held three times a year to discuss progress.
School-Wide Discipline System
We have a system called “Point Out” which is used to give students immediate feedback about their behavior at the point of performance. If a student engages in behavior that disrupts her learning, the learning of others, or the teacher’s ability to teach, is deemed disrespectful or unsafe, or conveys negativity or aggression, the student is either told “Point Out” (PO) or “One” (then “Two,” then “Three”) as indication that she has exhibited a behavior that is inappropriate for that (environmental) context. POs are analogous to fouls in basketball; the foul is called when the player oversteps boundaries. If a student earns three POs in a class period or accumulates three POs across time outside of the classroom, she is sent to see an administrator to discuss the impact of her behaviors on the class or community and to problem-solve appropriate alternatives. These office visits are recorded; after a certain number of office visits, the student may have an In-School Suspension which keeps her apart from her classes and friends for the day and gives her an opportunity to “recalibrate.” After serving her suspension, her slate is wiped clean and she starts anew. Because some behaviors (e.g., vandalism, theft, bullying) demand immediate administrative intervention, we dispense with the 1-2-3 protocol and address issues directly. In some instances, a behavior will necessitate an at-home suspension, sometimes in excess of one day. The goal of the discipline system is to help students become more aware of their behaviors and hold them personally responsible for their choices.
We have a Counselor on staff to support students with social-emotional-behavioral issues. However, we are not a clinical, therapeutic setting, so if a student’s needs are great, we will recommend “outside” therapy and will work with that professional to support the student. If the student requires more time and attention than we can provide, we will discuss alternative academic options that are better suited to the youngster’s needs.
Faculty regularly attend morning meetings (10:00-10:20) while students take their snack break. During this time, Principal Suzy Travis conducts “case studies” on all newly enrolled students so that faculty understands each youngster’s strengths and needs. If, during the course of the year, a student appears on teachers’ radars, the faculty collectively brainstorms ways to support that student’s progress and success. Faculty also form focus groups that learn about then teach colleagues about issues that impact our community: ADHD, learning challenges, teenage sexuality, autism spectrum disorders, etc. Because teens are impulsive and often times engage in risky behavior, experts are also invited to inservice faculty on topics such as sexual and substance abuse and cyber safety.
- Food service—breakfast, snacks, and lunch—is provided by Uncle Steve’s Kitchen for a nominal fee. Lunch offerings include salads, sandwiches, and complete meals, and must be pre-ordered. Students bringing snacks and lunch from home have access to microwave ovens.
- We do not have a gym but we do have a basketball court, weight room, and locker room with showers.
- While we do not have uniforms, students must select clothing from a menu of options (see attachment below).
- Students may participate in interscholastic sports. At Assets, we believe that students’ participation in athletics should be joyful; consequently, if we have enough students to field our own team, we maintain a “no cut” rule so that everyone who wants to play can do so. Every student on Assets-sponsored teams is expected to play in each game. If we team up with other schools for a sport, we must abide by the hosting school’s rules and expectations. We bus students to practice and they must find their own way home. There’s a an athletic fee to cover the cost of coaches, uniforms, and transportation.
- We offer limited financial aid (usually no more than 50% of tuition) to families who demonstrate need.