ARISE High School students, photo by Hasain Rsheed, hasainrasheed.com
(Editor's note: Our continuing series that looks at Oakland Local's picks for people/organizations to watch in 2011. See all profiles in this series.)
"I never thought I would have a student-principal relationship like this."
The young man was one many who stood up during ARISE High School's recent community meeting to vocalize his appreciation for the school's outgoing co-principals.
"Thank you for believing in us even when we don't believe in ourselves," said one young lady. The tears, hugs and smiles suggested that for many, ARISE offers something beyond the traditional high school experience.
Located in the Fruitvale Transit Village, ARISE - which stands for Authenticity, Rigor, Inspiration, Success and Empowerment - is a charter school, founded in 2003, that serves 220 low-income students who will be the first in their families to attend college. Founded by Laura Flaxman, Romeo Garcia and Emma Paulino, the school boasts a number of accomplishments, including having 100 percent of the students in the school's first graduating class accepted to four-year colleges.
For the last few years, Flaxman and Garcia have served as co-principals and it was clear from student thank you's that the two - who are now the new executive director and director of College and Community Partnerships, respectively - had made a serious impact on the student body. From providing academic assistance to helping students reconcile with family members, the duo and their staff have created a space that caters to the whole student.
The vision for ARISE was to create a small school where every student, no matter his or her history, could attend and gain the academic, emotional and social skills necessary to go to and graduate from college. With input from families, middle school students (who now attend ARISE) and undergrads (who now teach at the school), the founders were able to design such a school.
How does ARISE work?
The school day runs from 9 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Ninth and 10th grader complete many of the A-G requirements so they are California State University eligible, and by junior and senior year are taking classes off campus at one of the local community colleges. Available extracurriculars include student leadership, poetry workshops and athletics. SAT prep is built into school programming. Students participate in Senior Institute where they develop projects in five subject matters and present their work in order to prove their proficiency. And the list goes on.
"Everyone is focused on what we need to do to better serve this population," explained Candice Wicks, a newly hired English teacher who was impressed with the school's culture of commitment and the level of mutual respect between staff and students. Most times that focus means finding creative ways to engage students in curriculum even if it's by using Jay-Z's new book to spark discussion on poetry or reading "The Alchemist" and comparing portions of the book to Tupac lyrics.
It's about how you are, as well as what you do
While the school is heavy on the academics, it also pays particular attention to students' overall well-being. The high schoolers are broken down into smaller groups and attend "advisory" three days a week where they discuss college, do team-building exercises and engage in peer mentoring. Students also are required to participate in cultural immersion trips, which give them the opportunity to live away from home prior to going off to college.
"A lot of the kids who come from communities like ours could have the academic preparation, but still sort of give up because of all of the other stuff," Flaxman said.
"It's not enough for any school to say 'we're going to get you ready to go to college,'" Garcia added. "That conversation starts from the beginning when they first get to ARISE because we're not here to help you get into college only, we're here to help you develop the skills and motivation to graduate. "
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