Learning to fly
Cascade, Pacific academies forge fresh paths for challenged students
After he fell behind in credits at the International School of Beaverton, Tiernan Ley wasnt sure if the suggestion that he give Cascade Academy a try would lead to his cup of tea academically or socially.
The senior, who switched to Cascade two years ago, admits his apprehension proved misplaced.
I was reluctant at first, Ley says. I took a chance. Now I find I have more freedom and am still getting what I need from school.
Realizing his strengths seem to coincide with his interest in engineering and chemistry, Ley envisions his post-graduation plans including two years at Portland Community College before transferring to Oregon State University.
Im kind of a shy person, so I like it here, he says. During my second semester I started coming out of my shell and made friends more easily. I like the attentiveness of teachers. Its a lot more one on one.
The experience of each individual Cascade student, of course, varies greatly, but Leys road toward academic and social success, exemplifies how the program part of the Northwest Regional Education Service District can create a positive difference in behaviorally or academically challenged students lives.
I think were giving them back an ace (card) or two, says Principal Richard Goldner, who supervises Cascade along with Pacific Academy, its partner school. Students like the idea of having a stable school environment, and a school they can depend on. Most kids love it here.
Located in an unassuming, one-story office park on Southwest 141st Avenue, Cascade serves students in grades seven through 12 with serious conduct, behavioral and emotional needs. Teams from seven area school districts, including Beaverton and Hillsboro, refer students who could benefit from a small, nurturing, highly structured academic environment along with behavioral and mental health support.
The school, which boasts a 1:4 staff-to-student ratio, bases its curriculum, instruction and assessment to Oregon State Standards, with students receiving nearly 23 hours per week of instruction and an average of four hours of mental health services each week.
Sharing space and administration with Cascade, Pacific Academy is an educational therapeutic program for students in grades six through 12. A team comprising teachers, a clinical psychologist and a psychiatric nurse practitioner works together to serve each students social, emotional and behavioral needs.
While the schools are equipped to steer the stereotypical troubled or incorrigible kid back on course, many students just need a break from the tension and anxiety in unstable homes and the traditional high school setting to find their true direction.
Sometimes theyre just overwhelmed with the large environment of high school, says Elizabeth Frank, now in her sixth year as a special education teacher at Cascade. This is a more intimate environment. Some of their life situations are extremely stressful their parents have health issues, some deal with poverty.
I dont think of our students as being any different than any others, she adds. Thats the magic of this program. Whether theyre here because they werent coming to school or were just too anxious, when they start here, they feel so supported.
Mckenzie Watkins, the schools transitions coordinator, helps students form and fulfill individualized education plans for each student.
When theyre 16, we take input from students on what we will work on together and how were going to achieve that goal, she says. Some students go back to their neighborhood schools. Some really like the structure here. It just depends on what they want to do with their education.
Lisa Bates, a clinical social worker for the Northwest Regional Education Service District, works to keep Cascade and Pacific students engaged beyond traditional curriculum through problem-solving workshops and recreational activities such as dragon boating.
This semester, shes had students training with the Beaverton Community Emergency Response Team, a volunteer group that supports first responders in the wake of local emergencies and disasters.
Its a good way to empower students and give them skills to take care of their families or others if theres a tragedy in the community, Bates says. We get a lot of kids who are struggling. To give these students opportunities to learn life skills may change their lives forever.
Goldner describes the extracurricular activities as a back door way of getting to kids by highlighting the things they see as relevant, he says. We try to spice their lives up with these things and try to create lifelong learning experiences.
Ley, who credits Cascade with getting him back on track after falling a grade behind, is confident hell be prepared for college by the time he completes his final semester in spring 2014.
Everyone says how much they like it, so Im looking forward to it, he says, noting he already knows how hell handle the independent-study nature of higher education. I like starting work and finishing work, without anything in between.
I like a routine.
Visitor engages students in multicultural discussion
Classroom work at Cascade and Pacific academies is enhanced with interactive field trips and guest speakers such as Shariar Ahmed, a leader of Beavertons Bilal Masjid Mosque representing the muslim faith. At teacher Elizabeth Franks invitation, Ahmed, an engineer at Intel, visited Cascade in early November to casually discuss his faith and life experiences with students in two classrooms.
To me it was all positive, he says of the interactions, which came on the heels of students studying the story of German Holocaust victim Anne Frank.
I was surprised at some of their responses. They talked to me about Anne Frank. They said
I didnt talk down to them.
People need to see this (kind of dialog) more often, he adds. It helps put life in perspective.Add a comment