An alternative to ‘Alternative School’, Clear Creek Academy appears to be a successful model

Posted May 29, 2013 at 2:18 pm

After its first full year in existence, transforming the older model of an “alternative school,” Clear Creek Academy is much more than a setting for high school students who have made mistakes and been placed in an alternate setting.

The academy is now a setting that offers a positive atmosphere, along with hard work in education and a heavy emphasis on parent involvement, to assist any referred student in need of both behavioral and academic help to reach their goals.

Jeff Pharis, Director of Alternate School Programs, and Jeff Shelton, assistant director and instructor at Clear Creek, discussed the positive impacts the program has had on young men’s and women’s lives over the past year.

Pharis began in the former GEAR-UP program in 2005, which was designed to help students in a three-county area (Clinton, Wayne and McCreary) prepare for college readiness.

After that program was not refunded by the federal government recently, he noted that Superintendent Charlotte Bernard began working with Shelton to expand the alternative school into something different. Through that process, they came up with the best practices that could aid more students in different areas, such as credit recovery.

Clear Creek Academy is located in the building that houses the football complex near Bulldog Field on the Clinton County High School campus.

Last Friday, a total of three students who took advantage of the assistance offered by Clear Creek were among the members of the 2013 CCHS graduating class.

Students who attend Clear Creek get there through a referral system, usually by a school guidance counselor. A referral committee then does a review with the students’ parents, who have the final say as to whether or not their child enters the Clear Creek Academy setting. “We have huge parent involvement,” Pharis noted.

Shelton also stressed that parent involvement was one of the most important aspects of the academy’s success. “We keep them (parents) informed on a weekly basis of their child’s behavioral and academic progress…we don’t hide anything.”

Another former instructor who is now with the KY-ASAP program in Somerset, Tyler Young, said he had already seen where the program had kept some kids from getting into trouble and making wrong decisions.

Pharis admitted that a couple of students just didn’t do well, or some felt they were just too far behind and left the program, adding a few students have quit, but at least they were given a chance they didn’t have before.

A total of 38 students went through the program this year, with five having a chance to graduate. Pharis said the three that did graduate.

There is also a committee that refers students who have caught up academically or otherwise that recommends those students return to the normal school setting, Pharis said. Parents are also involved in that process. “Some parents think their kids can stay in a regular school setting and buckle down, but parents need to play a vital role.”

The Clear Creek Academy philosophy is “We believe…all students can achieve academic success; all students can learn to make appropriate decisions; all students can grow both emotionally and socially; and all students deserve a quality education.”

The program focuses targeted intervention, parent engagement, credit recovery, digital curriculum and behavior/discipline. The mission of Clear Creek is to provide students a positive and structured learning environment that provides a clear path for the student to realize their full academic potential.

Students in grades 5 through 12 who are enrolled, including new enrollees, or students who have withdrawn (drop out, home school, etc. can be nominated for admission to Clear Creek Academy and is then reviewed by the Intake Referral Committee. Each admission to Clear Creek is based on the individual student. The academy uses information from the referring party, students’ self evaluation, parental evaluations, observations, and assessments to create an individual plan for each student.

Unlike the regular school setting, Clear Creek doesn’t have the bells for start of classes, which Pharis estimates saves almost two hours of instructional time.

Students attending the academy for behaviorial reasons are brought breakfast and lunch to the classroom, while others are there to catch up or recover credits they are behind on, take the breakfast and lunch break in the usual school setting.

Last year, during the afternoon hours, students did a lot of carpentry work, building computer tables and stalls and there have also been a host of guest speakers, including District Judge Scarlett Latham, businessman (and now school board member) Jeff Sams and Extension Agent Christy Nuetzman, just to name a few.

In one session Nuetzman helped the students with how to fill out job applications and Sams did some mock job interviews with the students.

The rigid curriculum in computer-based and each day a student is given the amount of time they need per day to get caught up and stay on track. “Some students do extra preparation work and get ahead and they are physically challenged through the program,” Shelton noted.

A few students who attend the academy just wanted to get their grades up.

Pharis also stressed that Kentucky, insofar as education, had misused the word “alternative” when it began using the phrase alternative school.

“When you hear the phrase alternative, one thinks of ‘bad kids,'” he said. Shelton, however, said they weren’t bad kids, but kids that had made bad choices.

Pharis further said the word alternative was more appropriate for those seeking a GED, or in the gifted and talented program. “Kentucky has not used the word (alternative) in context,” adding they needed to change the name.

The title for Clear Creek Academy, according to Pharis, was derived from there being a creek that runs behind the high school property and that the program is aimed at giving students a clear opportunity for the path to a high school diploma.

Shelton is now in his sixth year in the setting and said this year has been the best and most satisfying over that time period. “We keep parents involved in the kids’ education, discipline and we also teach them things like respect.”

Of the total of 38 students who went through the program, there were 22 at the end of the school year, with some going back to the regular school setting after getting caught up on their academic work or recovering enough credits.

Shelton said one student had stayed in the program over the past five years…not because of discipline problems but primarily because he was more comfortable in the Clear Creek Academy setting. “He has really matured over the years,” Shelton said about that particular student and is looking forward to graduation.

The academy has a 77 percent average passing grade and 84 percent passing rate, with the number of classes passed on the first attempt being 97 with some 115 digital curriculum classes attempted.

The academy, which teaches not only academics from computers, but also life skills such as carpentry, describes itself as “a family centered educational program…created to provide a positive alternative to the conventional public school system.”

Clear Creek has also gotten some area and statewide attention from districts like Cumberland County which is studying the local program as a possible model for its school districts. Also, an article was sent to Superintendent Bernard from the KASA (Kentucky Association of School Administrators) which had written a story on it.

Earlier this year, several of the Clear Creek students made an impressive presentation about the academy, how it works and what it’s meant to them by means of a video shown to the Clinton County Board of Education. One young lady even called herself a “poster child” for the academy during that presentation to the board.

The following 12 quotes are from Clear Creek students themselves:

* I can come to school, get my credits, be a mother, and graduate on time.

* The teachers in here push you to work so you can graduate.

* It’s easier to concentrate on your work so you get more done.

* I like Clear Creek Academy because it is so much quieter here.

* The number system they use lets me know how much work I need to do each day.

* I have the chance now to succeed.

* I like Clear Creek Academy because I learn more and pass…and not fail.

* I can get my credits caught up and not worry about failing.

* Now that I have brought my grades up, I can try for my driver’s permit.

* I’ve gotten myself back to grade level. Now I can play football next year.

* I thought dropping out was the only choice I had left.

* I’m so glad I got the opportunity to come out here.

Pharis said the most rewarding aspect of working with the Clear Creek facility is seeing seniors who attended graduate. “The three seniors this year worked hard and long, even overtime on school days and some Saturdays…seeing them walk across the stage (to graduate) will be the shining moment for me,” he added.

Shelton said one of his most rewarding aspects of working with the program is “seeing kids who think they have no hope and then realizing there is hope and they can do it.”

Students at Clear Creek Academy on the CCHS campus get hands on training in both life skills and classroom study. In the top photo, students are shown building their own computer desks as part of learning carpentry. Above, a student reviews her course work while at the computer.

Clear Creek offers a rigid computer-oriented curriculum for its students.

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