MODESTO -- Elliott's Eagles are soaring after news that the school for challenging students and young moms rose 56 points overall in state testing, largely on the strength of juniors turning their off-track scholastic lives around.
The jump is just one more sign that one of the state's largest alternative education centers is making inroads on an intractable problem: getting kids who've checked out to check back in.
Continuation high schools take students whose lousy attendance, lack of interest or bad behavior made regular high school unworkable. These are not the worst offenders, who generally end up expelled.
"There's public perception, and then there's reality," said Elliott Alternative Education Center Principal Julie Beebe. "There's a perception that Elliott has bad kids or hard kids. That's not true.
"These are kids from all our high schools. It's not that they never had potential. These are kids that hit a pothole or missed a hurdle."
Beebe believes in her 866 students, and with a lot of staff input has changed schedules and programs to better meet their needs.
All the students now take algebra, albeit algebra with lots of review built in. The 2012 test reflected that only 3 percent were proficient, but that includes 93 percent being tested in the far tougher subject than the year before, Beebe said.
"Harder test. More students," she said with a triumphant smile.
Modesto City Schools Associate Superintendent Ginger Johnson said the school has raised attendance to 90 percent, which is extraordinary for alternative ed. Numbers of classes successfully completed went way up.
"They've worked very hard on relationships with these kids," Johnson said.
That starts with orientation, which used to consist of a student group watching a video. Now, administrators meet one on one with students and their families, designing an individual education program that can work, and getting parents to sign on to the plan.
A range of resources
Beebe, in her third year at the school, leverages a wide range of community and education resources to serve her students, offering help from a tube of toothpaste to new eyeglasses.
Among programs Elliott now offers:
JUNIOR SUCCESS: A small learning community stays together with block classes: two hours for math, two hours for U.S. history and American literature, then a block of time for individual online and in-person catch-up. Once caught up, they can go back to a regular high school.
SENIOR SUCCESS: Same general idea, different goal graduation.
FIFTH-YEAR SENIORS: Teens who miss graduation get some extra time to finish, housed at Pearson School.
AFTER SCHOOL: Extra help sessions or adult-ed classes offer another way to catch up on missing classes. After-school busing now eases transportation hassles.
SINGLE TEACHER: Students who are very, very far behind, at high risk of dropping out, can opt for a full-day class with one teacher and online supplements with no distractions.
PREGNANT MINORS: Teen moms-to-be take parenting classes along with their academic subjects. Day care is available for those with a child.
YOUNG PARENTS: An infant-and-toddler program cares for teens' children while they take classes.
"Every single kid has a different need here," Beebe said.
It was primarily students in the Junior Success program who pushed up the school's test averages. Now seniors, school high-scorers said they found the block schedule less stressful and made friends more easily.
"It's easier to learn, more like a family. Even the teachers grow on you," said Elliott senior Luis Herrera. Luis said he was "too cool for school," but fatherhood has turned him around.
"Once you're a father, you can't fail. You have to succeed. I don't want my son to grow up with my family history and gangs. I want my son to be the smart kid," he said.
Miranda Arteaga said she came to Elliott after her former best friend bullied her until life was unbearable. After six months, she punched her ex-friend in the face, leading her to Elliott, where she said she has found camaraderie and confidence.
"We know we're here to work," Miranda said.
For self-proclaimed "rebel child" Therese Clausen, the move to Elliott was the start of better days. "I was scared at first, but I really love it," she said. "We've been given a second chance take it!"
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2339.