SUNY Oswego and its students in a variety of majors have partnered with CiTi BOCES in an alternative learning program to help boost disengaged Oswego County high school students who may have lost hope of earning a diploma.

Nestled in a bright, open room in Wilber Hall’s lower level, the CARE—Credit Accrual and Recovery for Everyone—program hosts 11 students in grades 9 to 12 who work one-on-one with a CiTi teacher, School of Education faculty members and students from around campus. The goal is to rekindle a fire for learning in the high schoolers that had dimmed due to impediments to success in a traditional setting.

Kristen Munger, associate dean of the college’s School of Education and a strong supporter of the first-year alternative learning initiative, said results to date are encouraging.

“This is a compassionate place. It is very humanistic,” she said. “To see these students go from not engaged to so engaged is just remarkable.”

The morning program began in September as the Center for Instruction, Technology and Innovation responded to a call from superintendents, teachers and parents in districts around the county to launch a program that allows students who have fallen behind in a traditional school setting to accrue credits toward graduation and embrace learning in nontraditional ways.

“It is our responsibility as a community to educate all children, to find a way to educate each child,” said Robyn Proud, principal of student programs at CiTi. “We give parents, kids and their home high schools hope. That, in itself, is rewarding.”

‘Never gets boring’

Initial results are encouraging. Reading and comprehension are on the rise. Two of the students took and passed the global studies Regents exam in January. Now the focus will shift toward passing the Common Core Regents in algebra.

“Everything is at my pace,” said 10th-grader Brandon Dobbs, who beamed as he talked about reading “American Sniper” by the late Navy Seal Chris Kyle. “It never gets boring. I’m not staring at a teacher writing something on a board.”

Fellow sophomore Zachary Cronk said he loves the online programs that supplement the in-person discussions. “I think you get better understanding of things on the computer,” he said.

CiTi teacher Tammy Dilmore said the pace, the overstuffed chairs for leisure reading, the no-put-downs atmosphere, the individual attention, the college setting and the support from a digital curriculum offered by Apex Learning all work together in a blended learning experience that can be individualized for each student. “I like the small groups of students,” Dilmore said about her career choice of an alternative learning setting. “I can get to know each student on a personal level. I know their parents. It’s easier to build a community.”

SUNY Oswego students—interns, volunteers and some earning hours in the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program—pitch in to help provide the attention that the nontraditional learners need.

Justin D’Antonio, a senior Noyce Scholar majoring in both physics and applied mathematics, said the key is that when the students speak up or get distracted, “they are not shushed. They are taught to engage in both directions rather than just listening. We discuss each topic; it’s not just one-way. They’re involved.”

Harry Kandaras, also a Noyce recipient, majors in adolescence education and has more than 500 hours in a variety of classroom placements. The program in Wilber Hall, though, is unique in his experience. “I get to hear a lot of their concerns about their (traditional) classroom and to know what works for them,” he said. “I’d never read that in a textbook. I can fine-tune the little things in my (future) classroom that most teachers don’t pick up.”

Literacy is ‘crucial’

Sharon Kane, a SUNY Oswego professor of curriculum and instruction, works with the program frequently. She said the college-community partnership is vibrant and strong, and has proven effective in helping give definition to the alternative learning initiative.

And, she said, it goes beyond the educational institutions: Two of the students appeared at River’s End Bookstore in Oswego in January to talk with a book club about what they are reading. Titles include “The Boys Who Challenged Hitler,” “The Hired Girl” and “Echo.”

Proud emphasized how important it is to lift up disenfranchised students. “It’s about giving students choices,” the principal said. “With a high school diploma and possible college, it gives them choices in life.”