Working With At-Risk Students

The following article was written by John Lutz. John is currently the Coordinator of Alternative Education for Newark City Schools in Newark, Ohio. Newark City Schools are located in Central Ohio and is a high poverty 7000 student district. John is currently in his 30th year in education service. John has spent thirteen years as a classroom Special Education teachers and has previously held Special Education administrative positions in Pre- K to 12, District level, Vocational and separate facility settings. I am indebted to John for sending this to me and allowing me to reproduce it here.

What guides your work with at-risk students?

 One of my favorite jobs growing up was working in a pizza shop in a little crossroads of a town in central Ohio. Each shift I would receive a phone call and an order that was, shall we say, extremely individualized. My standard response to the caller was, “I can make it but you will have to eat it.” Some twenty years into my career in education I recalled those fond memories of my youth and the pizza shop and made the connection between my work there and my work with at – risk students.

Shouldn’t we be just as willing to create a “special order” educational experience for students as we would be making them a pizza? Shouldn’t we be willing to say,“Yes! – I can make this happen for you, but you will have to do the work.”  Too many times students seeking enrollment at the Newark Digital Academy would share stories about the lack of flexibility in their school offerings and how it impacted their ability to make progress toward graduation. We have sought to be something different.

We have 9 Pillarsthat guide our work with students at the Newark Digital Academy. Pillar 4 is Individualize by Including the Student. The inspiration for this pillar is, you guessed it, the pizza shop. We have been amazed by what some students can accomplish when given choice and flexibility. Pillar 4 philosophy tells us to do education with the student, not to the student.

The culminating result of individual students succeeding is a high achieving organization. In October 2017, the Newark Digital Academy became the only Dropout Prevention and Recovery School to achieve three consecutive Exceeds Standardsratings by the Ohio Department of Education; a feat that had never been accomplished by any of the nearly 100 Dropout Prevention and Recovery Schools in Ohio. This was a major victory for students who had rarely enjoyed academic success and an outstanding achievement for the staff that serves them.

So, what guides your work with at-risk students? Have you thought about it? Do you draw leadership inspiration from your own personal experiences? Have you been listening to your students? What are they they teaching you?