GETTING A FRESH START : TEENS CHANGE LIVES IN `LAST CHANCE' SCHOOL.Byline: Laurence Darmiento Daily News Staff Writer
In a small, cramped room far in the rear of the Probation Department offices in Valencia, a 17-year-old girl is finding salvation from an academic career that had been marked with dismal failure.
By her own account, she was suspended 68 times from Saugus High School Saugus High School may refer to:
``I got expelled for being suspended too many times. It was mostly for a lot of back-talk - talking back to teachers. They told me it was a record,'' the teen-ager said, with a slight ring of pride still in her voice. ``I had a lot of inside anger. I wasn't going to listen to anyone.''
Yet there she was, studiously stu·di·ous
a. Given to diligent study: a quiet, studious child.
b. Conducive to study.
2. reviewing a week of lessons assigned by teacher Therese Caler, lessons that required 30 solitary hours of paced hard work, as well as resistance to distractions of friends and MTV MTV
in full Music Television
U.S. cable television network, established in 1980 to present videos of musicians and singers performing new rock music. MTV won a wide following among rock-music fans worldwide and greatly affected the popular-music business. .
Since coming to a single-office school in April 1995, the teen-ager has managed to finish three semesters of high school and is nearing completion of a fourth. That will place her in 11th grade this month - at a pace that, if sustained, will let her graduate about the same time as her friends back at Saugus.
``Oh, she was something else when she first got here,'' said Caler, thinking back only 16 months. ``I couldn't tell her anything.''
Welcome to the Independent Study Program of the Los Angeles Los Angeles (lôs ăn`jələs, lŏs, ăn`jəlēz'), city (1990 pop. 3,485,398), seat of Los Angeles co., S Calif.; inc. 1850. County Office of Education, an urban, modern version of the rural one-room schoolhouse.
Relying on a small cadre (company) CADRE - The US software engineering vendor which merged with Bachman Information Systems to form Cayenne Software in July 1996. of teachers lodged in probation offices, community schools or wherever space is available, the county-operated program offers a final chance to students who do not fit in traditional schools.
Many have had more than just a brush with the law, are on probation or have just finished probation. If they don't get a diploma the Independent Study Program, it is on to the adult world without one. And teachers say chances are slim that many will buckle down buck·le
1. A clasp for fastening two ends, as of straps or a belt, in which a device attached to one of the ends is fitted or coupled to the other.
2. later to earn a high school-equivalency certificate from an adult school.
``This is the school of last resort,'' said Frank McCabe Frank Reilly McCabe (born June 30, 1927) was an American basketball player who competed in the 1952 Summer Olympics.
He was part of the American basketball team, which won the gold medal. He played seven matches. External links
The program has grown in five years from 15 offices to 50.
``We fill a niche. It is a limited one, but there is a great need for it,'' Lou Tabone, principal of the Valencia school, said few students ever see him. ``We don't offer everything, but the future looks bright.''
Caler considers 18-year-old Mike Garcia
Garcia left Saugus High School after he was accused of assault and put on probation - hard to believe for those who meet the courteous cour·te·ous
Characterized by gracious consideration toward others. See Synonyms at polite.
[Middle English corteis, courtly, from Old French, from cort, court; see teen-ager with a soft voice. Sitting in the Valencia office, he clutches a piece of artwork he has brought in to show off.
``I didn't get kicked out of school, but I hated it. I always hated it,'' said Garcia, whose facial hair Noun 1. facial hair - hair on the face (especially on the face of a man)
hair - a covering for the body (or parts of it) consisting of a dense growth of threadlike structures (as on the human head); helps to prevent heat loss; "he combed his hair"; "each hair fails to hide his youth and soft eyes. ``I hated the social aspect of it. I always was the class clown. I got C's and D's. Here it's so different. I am getting A's.
For Caler, Mike is a prime example of how the program can turn kids around. She said he is very intelligent, but was hampered by slight dyslexia dyslexia (dĭslĕk`sēə), in psychology, a developmental disability in reading or spelling, generally becoming evident in early schooling. To a dyslexic, letters and words may appear reversed, e.g. before it became irrelevant in a one-on-one setting.
``I have learned that if you work closely with kids, there is very little `special education' going on. You wouldn't believe the discussions I have with this kid. He is definitely college level,'' she said. ``But to pull these kids through, you have to be their mother, their father, their nurse, their doctors.
``People blame the schools, but they really have an impossible task. A teacher who has 50 kids in a classroom cannot possibly meet their needs. Mike might never have made it in a regular setting,'' she said.
Caler said another critical difference with the school is that it accepts students at all levels of achievement, and the work is simply adjusted to fit their needs until they catch up.
``We give them work they can do. It gives them a lot of self esteem,'' she said.
But not everyone can be reached. Caler remembers working hard but never getting through to two girls recently assigned to her. Both ended up getting pregnant and dropping out.
Some students are so far behind that Caler has to overcome her own doubts that they can catch up.
``Practically every probation kid I ever had has never read a complete book, not even a children's book. I recently tested a girl who was in high school, and she had a first-grade reading level. It's unbelievable how these kids are passed on,'' she says.
Caler began her teaching career in 1982 by working with delinquents at Sylmar Juvenile Hall. She has always loved the alternative-education setting. In the rigid structure of a juvenile hall, she says, academic and artistic talents are sometimes discovered in kids seemingly hopelessly lost to gangs.
While the Independent Study Program leaves the kids with a week off alone, McCabe says the ``last chance'' nature of the school imbues it with its own implicit rigor rigor /rig·or/ (rig´er) [L.] chill; rigidity.
rigor mor´tis the stiffening of a dead body accompanying depletion of adenosine triphosphate in the muscle fibers. . That can more than compensate for lack of the type of structure found at schools in juvenile halls and probation camps. McCabe, a 30-year veteran of the county's alternative education system, finds that all these kids have a deep need for tough rules, which they seem to equate e·quate
v. e·quat·ed, e·quat·ing, e·quates
1. To make equal or equivalent.
2. To reduce to a standard or an average; equalize.
3. with care.
``In the camp schools, they all respond to discipline. Here, if they don't do their work, I threaten to drop them if they are not on probation. They usually come in the next week with it all done,'' McCabe said.
Those still on probation can't be dropped because they are attending school under a court order. But McCabe says he finds simply getting troubled kids away from their peers can make the critical difference, especially when gang membership has replaced weak family ties.
``Prior to coming here, I've had kids ask me to reduce their grades if they did well. When they get good grades, they hide it. They have to fit in. All their homeboys do poorly.''
But if the one-on-one schooling requires extra self discipline from the students, it also demands something extra from the teachers. McCabe, for example, is teaching one youth who works full-time at a service station to pay court-imposed restitution In the context of Criminal Law, state programs under which an offender is required, as a condition of his or her sentence, to repay money or donate services to the victim or society; with respect to maritime law, the restoration of articles lost by jettison, done when the for an offense.
``I drive once a week to meet him. I have a small table and a chair in my car, so I can meet him behind the service station. He is going to graduate at the end of the semester se·mes·ter
One of two divisions of 15 to 18 weeks each of an academic year.
[German, from Latin (cursus) s . I am not going to let him go.''
One of Caler's former students said commitment from the teacher made the difference for her.
Several years ago, she says she was ready to drop out of school. Then she heard about the county's Independent Study Program and decided to check it out. A picture of her beaming at her recent graduation is tacked near Caler's desk. The young woman, 19, is now taking her first class at the College of the Canyons College of the Canyons is one of the fastest-growing community colleges in the state. According to the National Junior College Research Association, College of the Canyons consistently ranks in the top 50 community colleges in the nation. . She said Caler made her feel comfortable about getting an education.
``That doesn't happen in a regular school. No teacher is going to say `Hi' to every single student. She acknowledged my existence.''
Photo: (color in Verb 1. color in - add color to; "The child colored the drawings"; "Fall colored the trees"; "colorize black and white film"
color, colorise, colorize, colour in, colourise, colourize, colour SAC Sac: see Sac and Fox.
SAC - 1. An early system on the Datatron 200 series.
[Listed in CACM 2(5):16 (May 1959)]. edition only) Teacher Therese Caler li stens to Mike Garcia, 18, describe his work on a painting. He is one of four of her students who will soon get high school diplomas A high school diploma is a diploma awarded for the completion of high school. In the United States and Canada, it is considered the minimum education required for government jobs and higher education. An equivalent is the GED. .
John Lazar/Special to the Daily News