Arizona Department of Education

AIMS Intervention and Dropout Prevention Program TOOLKIT

Exemplary Program

Arizona Agribusiness and Equine Center, Inc. (AAEC) 2008 Profile

Contact information

Dr. William Conley

Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services

Arizona Agribusiness and Equine Center, Inc.

2002 E Baseline Road

Phoenix, AZ 85042-6906

602-297-8500

wconley@aaechighschools.com

Description

Arizona Agribusiness and Equine Center Inc. is an independent (charter) district that operates on four campuses. The AAEC schools offer a superior academic program that meets students where they are academically and socially, and prepares them for college. AAEC offers advanced coursework, comprehensive student support services, small classes and an intimate high school environment. It also offers students the option to enroll in community college classes and participate fully in the life of the post-secondary partner. The Center services low income teens and young adults who are at risk of not completing high school or who have documented academic, personal, or vocational barriers to school and workplace success. AAEC originally incorporated educational modules on agribusiness and equine activities, which continue at some the locations. The description below pertains to the South Mountain Campus, which houses primarily juniors and seniors. In 2007-08, South Mountain had about 360 students. Nearly 75% of their students qualify for free and reduced lunches, and 40% are English Language Learners. The majority of students are Hispanic. This school offers small classes, innovative instructional methods, advanced science and math classes, and the opportunity enroll and work towards an AA degree at South Mountain Community College.


Program design


Goals


  • To further reduce the dropout rate of current and new students;
  • to increase students' AIMS scores;
  • to continue providing internships, summer jobs and other hands-on work experiences for students;
  • to conduct effective professional development activities for teachers;
  • to conduct more community service activities;
  • to help students develop leadership skills and a sense of civic duty;
  • to graduate more students from high school with their AA degree;
  • and to further prepare students to transition easily and successfully into community college, a four-year college and the workplace.

Philosophy

Helping students identify their interests and passions, and exploring how they can be used to discover and select career and real life work choices are central to the core mission of educating young adults for a technologically advanced society.

Criteria for success


Passing classes with high grades, passing AIMS tests, participating in leadership, mentoring and service learning activities, identifying a working towards a future career

What contributes most to student success?

 
  • Strong school culture with high expectations

  • Highly qualified staff

  • Demanding academic program

  • Flexibility in making changes to improve the program

  • Small classes and individual attention

  • Strong counseling program

  • Collaborative relationships among staff members

  • Relationship with community colleges

Students

Background

Many of the students who attend AAEC are from inner city neighborhoods and enter the school with low competency levels. Entering freshmen often have to complete remedial work before they can succeed in the more challenging academic classes. All students entering the school are tested and those who need remediation take part in highly accelerated learning programs. The intense programs these students receive help students make remarkable progress in learning outcomes. Many of the students come from families where education has not been a priority.

Recruitment

AAEC schools are schools of choice. Students and parents seek out the school based on its high academic standards, small classes, high quality faculty, support services, and relationship with the community colleges. Students with highest levels of need receive extra support services. Many student come to South Mountain through word of mouth.

Setting goals

Every student works with an academic counselor to identify the student's academic and career goals and enroll students in the appropriate classes to achieve those goals. Students are required to write out a career plan, which is included in their academic plan and logged into the school database. Students also set goals regarding extra-curricular activities, leadership programs, and community service activities.

Taking responsibility for learning


Through small classes and close contact with teachers, staff and counselors, students learn how to learn and to take responsibility for their work and their behavior. One of the major aspects of the school is grooming students to become part of the adult world, which includes becoming responsible for themselves and working towards their goals. Leadership, mentoring, community service projects and individual attention all contribute to learning responsibility.

Motivation and incentives

In terms of the high school classes, students reported being motivated by going to a school where they "really learn something", and being in a school where students get along. All the students interviewed mentioned that the teachers have made a big impact on them by helping them succeed in their classes and helping them achieve at high levels. Students reported that they can ask any teacher for individual help and they know they will get it. One of the primary motivations students mentioned was being able to advance into classes at the community college while still completing high school. Students particularly appreciate working towards an AA degree without paying college tuition. Students interviewed reported that they had a strong sense of belonging to the school, which, combined with knowing most of the students in the school, and the many types of activities in the school, provided motivation for them to succeed.


Student Perspectives

Several students who were interviewed said that their relationship with teachers was what made the biggest difference for them in this school. They attributed the amount they were learning to this relationship, as well as the support they received for achieving at higher levels than they knew possible. Several said they planned to finish a higher education degree and that they would be the first in their family to do so.

Institutional support

Planning and decision making

The schools are centrally governed through the charter district. At the district and the school levels, the administration and faculty work closely together to create a high caliber academic program and support services for the students. Decisions are data driven. Staff members make changes in the school's program based on student results. Meetings are held on a regular basis in which staff make decisions about school issues and student issues. Because the school is small, decisions can be implemented quickly and the results can be seen in a short time span.

Staff and staff effectiveness

Teachers work together within and across departments to create a highly coordinated and integrated program. Teachers interviewed mentioned the strong collaboration they have with their counterparts and how positive relationships make working at the school very satisfying. More than that, however, is the motivation teachers expressed in terms of making a difference in the lives of their students and how much they enjoy working with them. For many, this is based on the huge accomplishments they see occurring in terms of student learning and personal development.

Professional development

Teachers participate in district-wide professional development held for the four schools in the district. Teachers from each academic area work in groups and discuss what is working and what needs improvement. They work together to devise new approaches. In addition to attending workshops, teachers receive mentoring and coaching from mentor teachers in their school. In addition, teachers within each school work closely together on a regular basis to create and enhance their curricula. Planning and decision making takes place regularly in staff meetings. School principals also meet regularly. Because the school is small, teachers have a chance to get to know each other well and develop closer working relationships that what occurs in larger schools.

Continuity across grade levels

Student progress is monitored carefully in each class and across all grade levels. Because the school is small, every student is consistently reviewed by the teachers, administrators, and counselor in terms of learning gains and behaviors. Students receive attention in numerous instances, and one of those is when students enter and need remediation. Another is when students take community college classes. At each of those transitions, faculty and staff work closely with students to make sure they are getting what they need and learning what they need to learn to succeed.  

Program evaluation

The data on each student available through the program's data tracking system are reviewed regularly by the program administration and staff members who are directly involved with the students. Based on the results, and the progress and achievements of their students, the components of the program are continually fine-tuned and evolve to meet student needs.

Program environment

Attendance

Student attendance is closely monitored. However, it remains an issue that needs constant attention. When a student is absent, the school makes phone calls and contacts family members immediately to find out why. The extra effort has positive results, but does not do away with all attendance problems.

Safety and discipline

The South Mountain campus has a safe and positive atmosphere. Clear rules about behaviors are part of the day-to-day life of the school. When visiting the campus, the student energy is very apparent, but the focus is on activities and learning, not acting out. The small classes and high ratio of adults to students help keep students focused on their purpose.

Support and caring

In addition to having close personal relationships with teachers and administrators, students with specific needs participate in individual and/or group counseling. Group sessions involve personal growth activities. Students participate in special activities and make a commitment to achieve certain goals such as attendance, completing assignments, improving grades, and other personal goals. A lot of attention is paid to motivation, bonding and building confidence in both personal and academic activities. The Why Try? Program was cited as being particularly helpful (see section on Curriculum).

Student-teacher relationships

Teachers work long hours to provide a high quality education through small classes and individual attention to students. Students interviewed expressed a high appreciation for the teachers. One student said, "Mrs. XX is like a Mom at school." Teachers take extra time during lunch, breaks, and after school to meet with students to help them with class work. The teachers are highly committed to the students, which the students talk about quite a bit.

Parent and family involvement

Parents are given many opportunities to participate in the school, and the school administrators consider many of the parents as their partners. Being a school of choice, student enrollment requires that parents understand and support school policies.

Partnerships and linkages

The school has a partnership with South Mountain Community College. Local businesses offer internships and participate in school activities.

Prevention and social services

The school counselor works with students with specific needs to refer them and their families to social services. Within the school, prevention is addressed through individual and group counseling and programs such as "Why Try?".

Academics

AIMS Intervention

Several classes focus on course content that need to be mastered to pass the AIMS tests. The students at South Mountain do particularly well on the writing portion of the test due to the English program at the school. Math and science courses are also emphasized. Individual and group tutoring are used to help students master specific learning areas if they need additional reinforcement. See more in the next section.

Curriculum and student achievement

In conjunction with South Mountain Community College (SMCC), AAEC has developed an award-winning curriculum. For the Academic and Career Success Program, AAEC uses a variety of classes and conducts four key remediation activities to help students improve their skills in reading, writing, science, and math: Reading Enrichment, Writing Workshop, AIMS Math and Methods of Inquiry. The latter is a science-based, theoretical class held on Friday for all freshmen that teaches them the skills of scientific investigation and the scientific method. Their participation in hands-on scientific investigation helps the students achieve better scores on the Biology AIMS test and higher grades in their upper level science classes. The Methods of Inquiry class serves all types of learners, even those who may not read or write well. AAEC also offers an English Skills class for all ELL students who have not achieved proficiency on the AZELLA test and a course in workplace preparation by offering resume writing, interview skills development, and related activities to help students transition into their career. Classes are conducted in a college preparatory environment.

AAEC implements the "Why Try?" dropout prevention program. The Why Try? Program is a simple, hands-on curriculum that helps youth overcome their challenges and improve outcomes in the areas of truancy, behavior, and academics. It teaches critical social and emotional principals using a series of ten pictures (visual analogies) which each teach a principal, such as resisting peer-pressure and that decisions have consequences. Incorporation of "Why Try?" has helped students visualize consequences of their behaviors. This class uses hands-on activities, multi-sensory instruction, and constant reinforcement of concepts. Counseling techniques include reality therapy, redirecting, the love and logic model, and Rogerian strategies.

Instructional strategies

The school has strong science, math, and English departments and teachers work together to utilize active learning strategies in all classes and subject areas. English classes use intensive, hands-on methods to teach students critical and active reading skills as well as writing skills. Students learn how to underline and make notes on materials to engage in critical understanding and critical thinking. These studying and learning techniques help student advance to higher levels of achievement in other subject areas as well. A writing workshop is conducted every Friday with all the students. South Mountain uses on-line reading and math programs (Academy of English and Academy of Math) to assist students with low reading and vocabulary skills and low math competencies. Students work individually and are closely monitored by the teacher who oversees the program.

Assessment strategies

The school assesses every student in all subject areas and enrolls students in classes that are suited specifically to their needs. Assessments are used continuously to help students make up gaps in their learning and move them on to the next level as soon as possible. One of the math teachers explained that they create their own assessments in math based on the curriculum they devised and teach in the school because standardized assessments were not specific enough.

Resources

The school has excellent computer labs and classroom facilities, including first rate science labs. Selected classes use "smart boards". One of the challenges the school faces is that the students are on separate campuses. For example, the juniors and seniors are housed on the campus adjacent to South Mountain Community College so the CC professors can teach on their campus. However, the freshmen and sophomores are at a different location, which makes bringing the students together for activities including community service, workplace transition, and remediation challenging.

Vocational, leadership, workplace, and life skills

Community service and service learning

The students are involved in a number of community outreach and leadership activities. All AAEC students performed at least 50 hours of community service this past year. Service activities included having students volunteer with the Humane Society, conducting cleanup activities with Phoenix Parks and Recreation, conducting a food and Christmas toy drive during the holidays, working at the Arizona National Livestock Show, running balloons for the Mounted Shooters at Winter Range, and conducting agriculture- and ecology-related activities in partnership with the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and through AAEC's ecology class. AAEC held a number of field trips to take students involved in the program to plays and cultural events. The school hosts a number of guest speakers, including a Holocaust survivor, a Phoenix policeman who talked with students about driving under the influence and several individuals from companies and colleges to talk about postsecondary education and career choice. Financial workshops are held for students. AAEC conducted Girls for a Change, which fosters positive community involvement, and had a speaker at the school in mid-May to talk with students about summer community service opportunities, after which a number of students signed up. Also, students can learn leadership skills through Career Development Events, Officer Positions, and Leadership Camps. Equine activities are an additional feature that students can engage in. This feature was new to South Mountain in 2006-07.

Mentoring

Mentoring activities take place primarily through the close relationship students have with teachers and staff members. Mentoring also occurs through the community service and service learning activities described above.

Vocation/Career

AAEC operates a student-run group called Teens with Dreams that meets on a regular basis throughout the school year to research needs in the community, decide which agencies or people they want to raise money and publicity for, and then implement the fundraising plan. Teens with Dreams promotes leadership development, as does AAEC's Life Explorations course for sophomores and juniors. This course helps students understand their role as local and global citizens, the need to help others, and their responsibility as future leaders within their communities. The class teaches leadership skills and incorporates résumé writing, interview techniques and other activities to help prepare students for the workplace, enable them to use these new skills when they are seeking employment, and teach them to younger students as part of a community service activity. Specific activities are assigned to the students on a rotating basis so each can serve in a leadership capacity, such as being in charge of advertising and marketing for a community service activity, organizing volunteers, etc. At least one leadership retreat is held each semester to enable students to meet outside the classroom to learn how to relate their service activities and leadership skills to their learning, and how to apply them in their future career, and as community members. AAEC recruits business leaders to attend the retreats so they can discuss how they integrate community service into their corporate culture, how they serve as community leaders, and to encourage students to develop and expand their service and leadership skills.

Transitional services

Placement in higher education

The school administration, faculty and students are very focused on higher education. Students are encouraged to make headway on an AA degree at South Mountain Community College (SMCC) while they attend AAEC. All sophomores are required to meet with the school counselor and an SMCC college advisor to put together an education and career plan to determine the high school and college courses they would take. Then, the students meet regularly with their school counselor to gauge where they are in completing their plan, discuss any remediation they need, and discuss any changes students wish to make in their choice of career. This approach ensures that they stayed on track with their plan and that they are well on way to obtaining their AA degree while still in high school. For example, if a student chose to major in psychology, AAEC and SMCC work with the student to ensure s/he takes the 35 Arizona General Education Curriculum (AGEC) offered in that field at the college. College courses are paid for by AAEC if the student receives a grade of C or better. Some students remain as 5th year seniors in order to complete their AA degree. This provides great savings to their families. Students who take community college classes receive support services from AAEC and SMCC to continue until the finish their AA. Students who graduate with an AA are encouraged to continue to a 4-year college. In addition, there are many opportunities for college bound students to earn scholarships.

Skills for the workplace

AAEC conducts several activities related to transitioning students to the workplace. The most significant is their School-to-Work class. On Fridays, junior and senior students have the opportunity to enroll in the class, where they learned how to write a résumé, fill out W2 and I-9 Forms, file taxes, fill out job applications, and other valuable skills. This class is a tremendous asset to keep students in school as they have the opportunity to earn school credit and money for working at the same time. In addition, those students who have jobs earned school credit for going to work. Five students completed internships in the past year. Beginning in the 2008/09 school year, AAEC will dramatically expand its workplace preparation and transition activities. We will establish a Career Exploration class and recruit new local businesses to provide internships for the students in the career of their choice. We anticipate nearly all the students involved in the Program will be involved in either job shadowing or an internship.

A number of students are involved in Future Farmers of America (FFA), which builds premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education. Students have the opportunity to learn career skills that are aligned with industry standards and take part in job shadowing.  This prepares non college bound learners to enter the workforce directly from high school. Students have the opportunity to compete on Career Development Event Teams and utilize these learned skills. All students also have the opportunity to earn money through a Supervised Agricultural Experience Project.

Site visit information

 

Claire Brown visited the program at South Mountain Campus on April 30, 2008.

Staff interviewed

Linda LaFontain, Principal

Mrs. Williams, head of English department

Ms. Dorset (counseling)

Mr. Zimmerman (FFA)

Mr. Martinez (Math)

Students interviewed

Kristin, Stacy, Yarely, Travis, Jose, Tenisia, Alexis, Liliana

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