Comstock Park — Saoirse Mbouissou more or less gave up on high school in her junior year.
Saoirse, a senior at Comstock Park High School, moved to Florida her junior year and lost connections with her lifelong district classmates. She’s back now, and working hard to recover lost credits through the Flex Academy at CPHS.
“I’m here because I need credits and I want to make sure I graduate,” Saoirse said. She enjoys the format of Flex Academy, spending all day Mondays in person and the rest of the week online.
“You get to work at your own pace and not feel so much pressure like you do in ‘real’ school,” said Saoirse, who is considering a career in social work.
Teachers Cassie Bryant and Tim Olson oversee the students, making sure they stay on track. Students who may not thrive in traditional classrooms are recommended to Flex Academy.
Credit recovery is one of the biggest reasons students are recommended for Flex Academy, a program that has grown from 22 students when it was started two years ago to 39 students currently.
Sophomore Caleb Badour said he had a hard time adjusting to high school his freshman year.
“I was going through some personal things and I wasn’t handling it very well.” He said he has the utmost respect and admiration for Olson, whom he knew from his middle-school years. It was Olson who recommended he try Flex Academy.
Caleb likes the easy, quick access to teachers and the ability to work at his own pace. He also likes that he can elect to work from home most days or be in the classroom, and enjoys history class in particular.
“I like the teachers. They’re amazing to us. They make it like home.”
Caleb said he’s thinking of attending Kent Career Tech Center, and may seek a career in heating and cooling.
Mix of Learning, Interaction
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 their teachers are available for one-on-one assistance and extra coaching. Electives such as band, choir and sports are not included in the coursework.
Bryant attributes Flex Academy’s growth to early identification of students who need to recover credits. Students may be going through problems at home and have attendance problems making it hard to succeed in the traditional classroom. They often do better with a smaller group.
’I like the teachers. They’re amazing to us. They make it like home.’— Caleb Badour, sophomore
Many students also had a hard time adjusting to online learning in the first year of the pandemic, as well as little interaction from their peers and teachers, said Bryant and Olson. The adjustment is made easier with Flex Academy, which allows them to use the online format and still build relationships.
“Some people work better with more flexibility,” Olson said. He noted it is a challenge when students are in different places and said some students and parents have placed less emphasis on school and more on work especially during the pandemic.
“We want to make kids realize there is a point to getting a diploma,” he said.
Olson said time is spent on both academics and on relationship building.
“We give support in our subject area if students are struggling with content. We also find ways to keep students active such as playing video games or basketball with them when they are ahead in their classes,” he said.
Olson and Bryant hold family-style group meetings to discuss expectations, and share treats and meals. Team-building activities and field trips later in the school year and next year are also planned.
“I love it. I like making the connections with the kids,” Bryant said.
Olson and Bryant’s impact has not gone unnoticed. Social studies teacher Maggie Parrish nominated her co-workers for recognition during Biggby Coffee’s annual teacher appreciation day. Biggby presented them with a $500 check, which they say will likely be used for flexible seating.
“They work with some of the most at-risk kids and have tremendous success with them,” Parrish said.
Last year, 95% of students enrolled in Flex Academy graduated and the other 5% earned diplomas over the summer session.
Next year, a career internship program and community service events are planned to be added.