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.
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.”