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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Comeback Kids Should be Cheered, not Feared

From San Diego's North County Times

Americans have loved the underdog ever since a ragtag bunch of patriots whipped a king's army. But a darker side of our history reveals how often we label individuals who don't fit the norm; creating the very obstacles to success we praise them for overcoming.

Newspaper opinionators can do a lot to expose the damage done by stereotyping.
That's why it was disappointing to read local columnist Thomas Arnold's take on Carlsbad Village Academy students, ("Decision jeopardizes student safety," May 2).

Budget cuts have forced the closure of the CVA campus next year, requiring its students to move to Carlsbad High. That spurred Arnold to suggest CHS student safety will be at risk from those who "couldn't cut it in regular school because they got pregnant, were expelled, or have behavioral problems."

After quoting a Carlsbad High student who's afraid his new classmates might establish a "turf" and "start fights," Arnold concludes, "I'd be every bit as alarmed as this 10th-grader is."

That sounded like stereotyping to me, so I took a closer look at the school designed for students who fall behind. The main difference I found between CVA and CHS students is that more of them are English learners, Latino and economically disadvantaged.

Arnold may be surprised by what else I learned about the school from Suzanne O'Connell, the district's assistant superintendent for instructional services and CVA Principal Keith Holley's recent report to the school board.

O'Connell assured me students are not banished to the CVA for misbehavior. They enter the school voluntarily, most often in the 10th grade, to recover credits after falling behind their classmates in local middle schools. Their behavioral problems are no different from those of their peers at CHS. Arnold's young friend can rest assured the school's not a dumping ground for expelled gang bangers. He has nothing to fear from the return of his middle school classmates.

Carlsbad Village Academy is proud of its academic achievements, including a 98 percent graduation rate, a 100 percent passing rate on the High School Exit Exam, and an 86 point increase last year in its Academic Performance Index. Latino students and English learners led the way. Eleven percent of CVA students recover enough credits to return to regular classes at CHS at midyear.

O'Connell told me that planning has not yet begun on the details for transforming CVA into a school-within-a-school on the CHS campus next year. The objective is to provide a wider, college prep curriculum for CVA students, while retaining the individual support and fast-track class scheduling that will help them catch up with their classmates.

You'd think Carlsbad's comeback kids would be more cheered than feared.

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