A Juneau School District program that seeks to place high school students who are at risk of not graduating on time back on track was the subject of this Thursday’s weekly Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Moose Family Center.
Educators Kristy Dillingham and Angela Imboden gave a presentation on the Credit Achievement Recovery and Employability Skills, or CARES, program, which is run by the JSD and funded through grants.
Imboden, whom Chamber President Kelly Shattuck introduced as a first-year CARES teacher, tried out a classroom exercise she called “think, pair, share” on the luncheon attendees. She invited them to find a partner and spend three minutes discussing their ideas on what they think credit recovery is.
Immediately after Imboden’s three-minute timer began, more than one person was overheard admitting to his partner, “I have no idea.”
Perhaps predicting that response, Dillingham and Imboden devoted much of their presentation to simply explaining what CARES does.
“If you’ve taken a course and you’ve failed it, this is your opportunity to recover that credit,” said Dillingham, who is also president of the Juneau Community Charter School’s Academic Policy Committee. “And so that’s the kind of fundamental idea of what credit recovery is, and that’s a big focus of the CARES program.”
In addition to credit recovery, Imboden said, CARES also provides support for students who are struggling in certain areas, organizing a “Saturday school” session in which high school teachers come in on the weekend and assist students with particular subjects.
“Anybody’s invited — we don’t exclude,” said Imboden. “But we will target the ninth- and tenth-grade students who are close to failing that class. And hopefully with attending the … Saturday school, they can turn in enough credit, or enough extra credit, to get the credit for that class, to pass.”
CARES also offers four-week versions of classes that normally span a full semester, having students spend two or three evenings per week after school catching up on courses they failed.
Dillingham said the CARES program tries to provide students with hands-on learning environments.
“We’re not in the classrooms all the time,” Dillingham said. “We’re constantly reaching out to different businesses, venue places, to figure out how do we make this learning experience richer for our students?”
There is one teacher for every 10 students in the CARES program, according to Dillingham.
“The teachers who teach our classes teach a full load during the day,” Dillingham explained.
In their presentation, Dillingham and Imboden produced numbers showing that the student population of the CARES program is skewed toward institutionally disadvantaged groups — Alaska Native students, students in poverty and English Language Learner students.
According to the presentation, many CARES students also cope with other social or health issues, such as teenage pregnancy, family instability and addiction.
“All of our students experience these hardships in life,” said Imboden. “These are the students we see daily.”
Dillingham added, “When we think, like, ‘Why can’t they be successful?’ Well, they have a lot to overcome, and they have a lot of hardships going on in their lives.”
Among the audience members at Thursday’s luncheon were the two candidates to succeed Ryan Alsup, who is retiring at the end of June, as principal of Juneau-Douglas High School.
Larry Walsh is visiting from New England, where he is principal of Oxbow High School in Bradford, Vt.
“The presentation was excellent,” said Walsh afterward. “Any time that we can get more kids across the line, it’s a win.”
Walsh said Oxbow High School has its own Web-based credit recovery program, but he called CARES “a very, very impressive program.”
JDHS Assistant Principal Paula Casperson, the other principal candidate, had warm words for the program as well.
“I think CARES is an asset for our school district, and certainly for our high school students,” said Casperson. “I appreciate that the focus isn’t solely on credit recovery. It’s on reengaging students as learners. … I think that’s a critical aspect of what they do for high school kids.”
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at email@example.com.