By Rachel Gill
On Sept. 5, Champlain Valley Union High School Board members had a lesson on “Life.”
Presented by Jim Clapp and Helen MacAndrews, two of the three staff members who run the CVU Life Program, the Life Program is a multi-year, credit-based (no grades) program to teach students basic skills through individualized or small group instruction.
“Often we see students despondent about high school because they have had failure and have never had an opportunity to be successful,” Clapp said. “Coming into our program they feel that it’s a doable process, they have advocates, a support system, and they know they will graduate because that’s a tradition.”
According to Clapp, the purpose of the presentation was to provide the board with a history of the program, where it is today, and a glimpse of the program’s future.
During the 2006-2007 school year, the program served 25 students, 12 of whom graduated. Currently, students are required to complete 25 assignments per week that are facilitated by two licensed teachers and one assistant.
During the presentation, Clapp and MacAndrews also brought portfolios of 2007 Life Program graduates, one of which belonged to a student whose parents met in the Life Program in the 1970s when the program started.
“We have some multigenerational successes in this program,” Clapp said. “I think there is an expectation of success once they are in the program.”
HOW IT WORKS
Through creating individual weekly contracts that list assignments and class activities, students earn weekly credit towards accumulating the credits they need to graduate from CVU.
“We help them to see that graduation is a possibility,” MacAndrews said. “Students are not forced into the program, and they know it’s a privilege to be in the program. We have a three strikes and you are out policy that works to maintain a positive classroom environment.”
MacAndrews said on average three students a year leave the program.
According to MacAndrews, students learn about the program through friends, house directors, teachers, or advisors. A meeting is scheduled to discuss the program, students fill out an application, get parent permission, and two letters of recommendation. Clapp and MacAndrews and other CVU staff meet to look over the list of applicants to determine which students to accept.
The Life Program is the oldest alternative high school program in the state. During the program’s first few years, it was a male-only program. After years of operating two separate programs, they were combined and moved into the same location at by the Carpenter Carse Library in Hinesburg.
When Clapp started working at CVU 11 years ago, he was a student teacher tutoring young people who had been kicked out of school. Eventually, he started transitioning them into the Life Program and at first he said he didn’t know what to expect.
“On the first day, I remember walking in and having students run up to me and say, ‘read this poem I wrote’ and they were just so excited that I knew it was a program I wanted to be part of,” Clapp said. “We have an open door policy for families and board members and any interested community members to come and experience the atmosphere.”
MacAndrews, who started working in the program four years ago, said one of the program’s strengths is the development of personal relationships.
“We really get to know our students and their families, they really come to trust us,” she said. “We also help them work out non-academic stuff as well and that helps them sit down and do their school work. We want to support them but also make sure they are making progress towards their diploma.”
Providing that support is something CVU board Chairwoman Jeanne Jensen said the board appreciates.
“I suspect you must really get involved in these students’ lives and that takes a lot of heart and we really appreciate you both putting yourselves out there for these students,” Jensen said.
At the meeting, the board also approved its 2007-2008 work plan, and Jensen discussed board recruitment by encouraging members to start looking for replacements for those not running for the board next year. Sarita Austin of Williston announced she will not be running once her term expires in 2008.
Meg Hart-Smith, CVU board member and member of the facilities committee, provided an update on the CVU auditorium project.
The biggest setback to the project was the Legislature’s passing a moratorium on state construction aid. Previously, the state would contribute 30 percent to approved school construction projects. The moratorium has an exception for health and safety issues, for which the auditorium project may qualify.
Despite this setback, Hart-Smith said the Facilities Committee is continuing to move forward. According to her update, Fundraising Committee members will be speaking with prospective donors and community members to obtain their thoughts on the project. Hart-Smith also said she and Chittenden South Supervisory Union Chief Executive Officer Bob Mason are putting together a rationale packet for the CSSU community to explain the project. McMannon has scheduled a meeting with the Program Council to get feedback on private fundraising, donor recognition, and the potential impact on the school.
“I feel this is a good way to go in a very uncertain landscape,” Hart-Smith said. “Surveying with the community is a realistic way to see if people think we could fundraise a significant portion of this project’s cost and if it happens that we can, we want to be ready to jump.”
The next board meeting is Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. in CVU Room 102.