After years of falling behind in the classroom, Caleb Clark says he’s finally on a track that will get him a high school diploma and a welding career.
The 16-year-old junior has enrolled in the district’s new Flex Academy, a hybrid high school designed to help students who are behind on their path to graduation or struggle in traditional classrooms.
Besides attending the Flex Academy, Caleb attends welding classes at the Kent Career Tech Center. It’s a skill his grandfather learned when he was Caleb’s age. “He’s very proud of me,” says Caleb. “One day, I hope to become a pipeline welder. I’ve heard it’s very tough but I’m willing to put in the work.”
For now, that means mastering the other lessons needed to graduate from high school. “It’s very different from a normal school class. Everyone knows each other. It’s kind of like a big family,” says Caleb.
“It’s really been a big help for me. I never liked school. I’m more of a visual learner,” says Caleb, who was falling behind on the credits he will need to graduate in 2021. He’s hoping to gain eight credits this year and eight credits next year.
The new Flex Academy currently has 22 students and is adding more, says Chris Sposaro, the new academy’s director. Unlike at the high school, which requires 23 credit hours to graduate, the Flex Academy can award a diploma with as few as 18 credits, the state minimum.
Students are expected to study the basic subjects required by state standards. But teachers are available for one-on-one assistance and extra coaching. Electives such as band, choir and sports are not included in the coursework.
“Not everyone is college bound,” says Sposaro. “Everybody is different. Everybody needs a different path. In 2019, we can’t do the same thing we did in 1919.”
Students enrolled in the Flex Academy are not necessarily considered to have behavior problems. “This enables some smaller class sizes and its also allows for relationship building.”
Located in a separate classroom, the Flex Academy is staffed by one full-time teacher and several other teachers who drop by during appointed hours to help out in specific subjects. The Flex Academy replaces the Career Academy, which was designed to bring struggling students along within the high school’s mainstream setting.
Kim Pfeiffer, a longtime teacher who specialized in coaching students, is the Flex Academy’s primary instructor. He takes attendance, does the grading and identifies areas where students may be falling behind.
“This helps a lot of the kids who don’t necessarily fit the mold of regular high school environments,” says Pfeiffer. “They’ve either gotten behind or they just want to get the credits and move on with their lives.”
Pfeiffer says they hope to open the Flex Academy to students from other school districts who may thrive in the non-traditional setting.
Flex Academy is designed as a hybrid that blends the flexibility of online charter schools and the need for classroom “seat time” for many students, Pfeiffer says. While online classes are promoted as a means of getting students their diploma, the lack of classroom time often results in failure, he says.
“It’s basically more stress free,” says Flex Academy sophomore David Rodgers, who hopes to pursue a career in the culinary arts at the Tech Center. “Basically, it gives you a lot of possibilities.