Struggling students get a boost

Program combines 2 years of school into one

Monday, January 21, 2013
Text Size: A | A

— They’re 14 years old, but they’re still in middle school — an awkward situation at best.

So when Schenectady’s struggling students came back from Christmas vacation, they were moved to a new school, where they could study near students their own age.

Students who are repeating middle school grades are now at Steinmetz, the district’s alternative high school.

The students are enrolled in a program called Success Academy, in which they can simultaneously complete two years of middle school at once. That makes it possible for them to catch up with their age group.

The average student in the program is 14, the same age as the typical high school freshman.

Success Academy was once at Blodgett School. There, the 85 students were in their own environment, surrounded by no one but other students trying to catch up.

That worked well, said Steinmetz Principal Gregory Fields, who developed the program years ago.

But Blodgett is now a pre-K building, so the students were moved to Mont Pleasant Middle School. They were the oldest students in the school, and school officials said it wasn’t a good mix.

It encouraged the 14-year-olds to behave like younger children, Fields said.

At Steinmetz, he’s already seen a difference.

“They’re with kids the same age or a little bit older,” he said. “They’re now comparing themselves, not to people who are 12, but 14, 15, 16.”

At Blodgett, the program showed strong success. Last June, 13 of the 21 eighth-graders passed the ninth-grade math Regents exam, giving them high school credits toward graduation.

“One of the things I’ve always believed is they have the cognitive ability,” Fields said.

Changing minds

He thinks other issues, from poor reading skills to a sense of never-ending failure, have convinced students they can’t succeed.

He developed the program to change their minds.

“We have to get them into a mindset to succeed,” he said.

The program is difficult, but it offers a carrot: if students work hard, they can get through two years of work in one year, through computerized learning software that allows them to move at their own pace. Teachers are also part of the program, as is an emphasis on reading skills.

But it’s a lot of work to get through in one year, and Fields said the students do best when they can work in an isolated space. At Steinmetz, there’s enough room for them to be separated from the student body at all times — even at lunch.

“That separation is good, so they can focus on their goals,” he said. “The only students they’re interacting with are other students with the same goals and objectives.”

But students who are doing well in the program are now being offered another incentive: they can take high school electives with their peers.

One student is taking two electives: studio art and culinary arts.

“He’s concentrating more on his [Success Academy] courses because in the afternoon he can take culinary class,” Fields said.

Fields observed him in the electives and was pleasantly surprised.

“He acts like a senior class member,” Fields said.

And when the bell rings, the student packs up his bag and heads back to his Success Academy classroom without any prompting from a teacher.

He hopes those electives will help students get ready for high school.

“They start developing a high school culture,” he said.

Generally, seventh-graders who are enrolled in Success Academy stay for two years, giving them enough credits to enter high school slightly ahead of the other freshmen. If they are doing well, they can also take the Steinmetz electives, which give them more high school credit.

It is possible for them to enter high school as sophomores, but requires constant focus. The average Success Academy student moves up to ninth grade, not 10h, Fields said.

But just earning some ninth-grade credits will put them in an excellent position to graduate, he said.

“When they get accustomed to success in high school courses, they’re going to have more success,” he said. “It gives them the experience of doing high school work.”

Share story: print print email email facebook facebook reddit reddit


January 21, 2013
1:46 a.m.

What a load of crap.......enabling bad homework...just computers and they work at their leisure....paint it any way you want...this is not education..this is what they have to do to push these kids through the system without work for the students and the teachers.....very sad...They get to SCCC and complain about homework...because they never had it before.

January 21, 2013
9:24 a.m.

Schenectady City Schools have addressed 'special learning needs' since the late 1800s. Audits at the time found very high failure rates in the elementary grades leading to massive drop out, and very low eighth grade completion rates.Officials attributed this to high percentages of kids from immigrant families. Officials 'cleaned this up' by simply promoting all of the kids.

In 1948, superintendent Linton, father of a challenged child, established a special education program on the first floor of Pleasant Valley Elementary School. Much like today's BOCES, it drew kids from many other districts. In effect, this was a one room school. It accommodated up to 20 kids at all grade levels. Being in a ''regular' school building gave participants incentive to be placed 'up stairs.' and eventually returned to home school districts.

The City School District needs to be proud, and receive more recognition for this and all its ground breaking programs. Evan misguided efforts early on, resulted in eighth grade diplomates who went on to build Alco and G.E.

January 21, 2013
9:50 a.m.
tonijean613 says...

Schenectady Scott is the only one "full of crap" and clearly lacks education himself-if you are not going to be part of the solution, stay out of the way and keep your negativity to yourself. You clearly do not want to see Schenectadys children or the City improve.

Log-in to post a comment.

columnists & blogs

Log into

Forgot Password?