GOAL Academy Shows How to Help Disenfranchised Youth Succeed

2015-10-29-1446151118-2595803-GOAL_2.pngPhoto: GOAL Academy

The definition of an "alternative" school, as most understand it, is hard to ascribe to G.O.A.L. Academy, our October NCLR Affiliate Spotlight. GOAL was the result of an effort to create a different educational experience for the high number of disenfranchised, out-of-school youth that school administrators saw in their community.

In Colorado, that ends up looking like an alternative education campus -- where disenfranchised youth often get sent, but school officials say it's really just a school with a specialty mission.

While administrators may see GOAL as something other than a traditional alternative school, the reality is that the talented team that comprises the staff has created an alternative, and it's a model other states are eager to replicate.

GOAL is a "blended learning" school that with an online curriculum and over 30 physical locations throughout the state. Founded in 2009, they started with fewer than 100 students. Today, enrollment is expected to be close to 4,000 students all across Colorado. GOAL Academy is among the largest charter schools in the state.

GOAL offers a chance for its students, 95 percent of whom are considered "at-risk," to thrive and excel despite being failed by an education system that is struggling to adequately serve minority communities.

In Colorado, between 14,000 and 18,000 students drop out of school every year. GOAL's mission is to get as many of these students back into the school system as possible and to ensure they succeed.

When it was founded, school leaders set out on a five-year plan to make sure all their graduating students did so with college credit, workforce-ready certification, or both. They have achieved above and beyond that objective, last year graduating more than 800 students, many of them with college credit.

A defining feature of GOAL's approach is how they set up their students for success. First, students have complete flexibility when it comes to their schedules. School officials credit this flexibility as one of the keys to their success. They work with students with full-time jobs, single mothers, and other students who are often balancing a difficult home life with their goal to finish high school and graduate.

"We want to make sure we're serving the whole student," said Janelle Quick, director of marketing and communications. "Kids are facing harder challenges than ever before. Our system is conducive to everyone's learning style."

Also, in addition to their teachers, all students are assigned a "life coach"--another element of their success, says Quick.

Quick and the rest of the GOAL Academy administration believe the school has a responsibility to students' non-academic needs as well. Whether that's hunger, housing, personal relationships, social well-being, or medical well-being, life coaches are there to care for their students and they meet with them frequently.

To meet their aim of helping kids prepare for college and beyond, many students participate in the school's robust Concurrent Enrollment (Early College) program. GOAL Academy has working relationships with over 20 Colorado two- and four-year colleges, universities, and technical schools. This is key for school leaders, as many of their students have never considered that college is an option.

"We don't do AP or honors courses; we put them in the college environment to show them what it's like," said Quick. "To put them in that environment gives them a taste of it and they get the bug."

Quick explains that when students take AP or honors courses, they're still taking them in the high school setting, which is not exactly realistic for preparing for college the way immersion in a college course is.

GOAL Academy's individualized, flexible approach has yielded tremendous results. New state data shows that at the college level, GOAL graduates are outperforming their peers from "traditional" schools.

"We do know that the traditional students going into the junior college are not performing as well as the kids that we're sending to take college coursework," said Quick. "For a regular student entering junior college, they're performing at half the rate ours do."

Combined with the recent acquisition of a 300-plus acre campus that the school is using to advance its outdoor experiential learning and career and technical education programming, GOAL Academy is showing the world that education can be delivered in new and more thoughtful ways that benefit all students.

GOAL Academy is truly an excellent example of the power of the NCLR Affiliate Network. We look forward to seeing them grow in the years to come.

This was first posted to the NCLR Blog.