Susan Pliner, associate dean for teaching, learning, and assessment and the interim director of the Centennial Center for Leadership, was recently quoted in an article about the Canandaigua Academic and Career Center, a program of Canandaigua Academy that is housed off school property, on the Canandaigua VA property.
The article notes “The Academic and Career Center houses an integrated program where all students do Regents-level course work whether they are classified with special education needs or not.”
While Pliner is said to agree with the district that educators “should use varied methods of teaching based on a student’s individual needs,” the article notes, “she believes all students should remain in a traditional high school setting, rather than moved to another site to study.” Pliner notes the working world the students will enter is more similar to the traditional school setting.
“When you separate students out, you’re creating different systems,” she is quoted. “Life after school doesn’t operate that way. It doesn’t replicate what the world is.”
The full article follows.
“New name, same possibilities”
Michele E. Cutri-Bynoe • staff writer • July 20, 2010
Canandaigua, N.Y. –
The Canandaigua Academic and Career Center, formerly known as the Possibilities Center, not only has a new name, but a new home.
The facility has moved from a brick house on the grounds of the neighboring Canandaigua VA Medical Center to a larger VA building with room to grow. The center now occupies a complete floor of building 36.
The program has also changed. It’s no longer strictly a special education program. The Academic and Career Center houses an integrated program where all students do Regents-level course work whether they are classified with special education needs or not.
‘Sense of belonging’
Executive Principal Lynne Erdle said she came to the Academy 12 years ago with a vision in which all Canandaigua students would be educated within the district’s programs. At that time, classified students were sent out of district and were placed in either private or BOCES-run programs.
“I wanted our students to have a sense of belonging to their own school,” Erdle said. “And my vision was to create programs run by our district, our administrators, our teachers and support staff, where students could be successful academically, emotionally and socially.”
Administrators say the goal of the new center is still to give each student what they need individually to do well academically, but in an atmosphere that resembles a more traditional classroom than the earlier Possibilities Center, where the program outgrew the space. Students are now able to spread out more.
They have a greater chance for success in a setting separate from the Academy with fewer students and a higher ratio of teachers to students, which allows for more individualized attention, said Erdle.
Because the program offered at the center is smaller than the one at the Academy, it allows teachers and staff to get to know students and their families, she said.
“Students with emotional difficulties need, just as all students do, structure, guidance, compassion, attention,” said Erdle.
What they may need more than others is someone to take a true interest in them for who they are, not comparing them to other students or judging their background or past, she said.
A new approach
Students at the center have different learning needs. Some kids need to work directly with a teacher, while others might need to play a game to learn the same information, according to Academic Center teacher Heather Black.
One student said that one-on-one attention from teachers has made all the difference for him.
“I’m getting a lot better grades than I was at the Academy,” said junior Jared Kuczma. “I probably would have ended up repeating a grade if not for the Academic and Career Center.”
Students get special attention and lots of support at the center, which helps them to succeed, said Jason Bryant, an aide at the center.
“It’s all about encouragement and love,” he said.
He tells students they can meet their goals.
“It may take a little extra time, but you will succeed,” said Bryant.
“We want to provide a program that provides students with the tools it takes to be successful in today’s real world,” said Erdle.
She explained that for some students it would mean pursuing college and career, while others would learn the discipline it takes to stick with something and persevere. There are lessons to learn about work ethic, punctuality, respect and responsibility. She said students are exposed to all of these tools for success, and it’s up to them to make a future with them – a lesson that echoes that taught at the Academy.
An alternate view
Susan Pliner, associate dean of teaching, learning and assessment at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, agrees educators should use varied methods of teaching based on a student’s individual needs. However, she believes all students should remain in a traditional high school setting, rather than moved to another site to study. That way, she said, they will have an experience that will mirror the working world they will soon enter.
“When you separate students out, you’re creating different systems,” Pliner said. “Life after school doesn’t operate that way. It doesn’t replicate what the world is.”
Teachers should have resources to meet student needs with creativity and flexibility within the traditional classroom, said Pliner.
Canandaigua school administrators believe that some kids need to be educated separately, that the Academic and Career Center gives students who aren’t achieving in the high school setting – and who run the risk of dropping out – an alternative learning environment.
“These are kids who have given up on standard high school – that’s why we have a special environment to meet their needs in a better way,” said district spokesman Andy Thomas.
“Not all students can handle what we term traditional high school – moving from class to class, facing seven to nine different teachers with different teaching styles and expectations; seeing 1,300-plus other students day in and day out,” said Erdle in an email. “Yet, they are our students and deserve our best.”This year, the center served 30 students in grades nine through 12. There were seven seniors and six of them graduated, five of whom received Regents diplomas.
Courses offered this year mirrored what was offered at Canandaigua Academy. Work study programs were available and students could attend the BOCES Finger Lakes Technical Career Center for training, or even take classes at the Academy. Students went to the Academy for classes in Spanish and gym.
“The program today is integrated, which it wasn’t in the past,” said Heather Pawlak, school counselor and dean of students.
The center now partners with dozens of local businesses and 11 different sites at the VA to provide even more opportunities for students.
“I ended up getting an internship with the VA Fire Department,” said junior Kuczma. “Now, I’ll probably end up becoming a career fire fighter for the VA, while still volunteering for the Hopewell Fire Department.”
There are plans to add a seventh- and eighth-grade program to the center, as well as online courses.
“We’re ready to grow the program,” said Erdle. “We’re looking at online possibilities to connect kids, because that’s the way they learn – with their computers.”
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