Last-chance school for struggling kids

July 29, 2008 3:25:14 PM PDT
You know the dismal figures. About four of every 10 New York City high school students do not graduate.But now, one local school is designed just for those struggling students.

"We always say, you know, we are the school of last chance," principal Ronald Tabano said. "This is it."

Students at the Wildcat Academy Charter School do not generally complain about class work.

"You don't come here to fool around," student Roberto Gonzalez said. "You don't come here to mess around with your friends, you know. You come here to graduate and become somebody."

They have all attended at least one other school. At admission, their average age is 17, with an average of just four credits. Twenty-four percent are special education students, 25 percent are parents themselves and 25 percent have criminal histories or previous gang activities.

"Gangs, fighting, smoking, you know," student Shaedon Blackman said. "Just teenage stuff that you can fall off easily on, like giving in to peer pressure."

Most were truants at their previous schools.

"I just, it wasn't working out for me," student Courtney Robinson said. "Like, I didn't want to go. I was cutting. I was just not going."

Even though 100 percent of young people enter the Wildcat Academy by way of the road to failure, administrators say they are able to help most of them change direction."

The school has been cited as having the city's lowest graduation rate, based on a four-year scale. But administrators say Wildcat graduates 85 percent of those who enroll, and that 60 percent go to college. Their formula includes small classes, longer hours and lots of tutoring.

Education reporter Art McFarland: "How much better are you doing?" Student Amelia Cruz: "A lot better. My average was really bad. It was like not a passing average; now it's a passing average."

"The teachers are all supportive," Wildcat graduate Amanda Martinez said. "The whole school staff is really supportive."

Unlike most charter schools, Wildcat accepts referrals from counselors or the criminal justice system.

"I would dare say that except for this school and, you know, what we do, I don't think there would be another place where these students would quite fit in and make it," Tabano said. "and they realize that too."


STORY BY: Education reporter Art McFarland