Editor’s note: As discussions continue about discipline and whether there are enough alternative schools and programs to meet unique needs of some students in Oklahoma City public schools, Oklahoma Gazette explores alternative paths available that help students graduate high school with the skills needed to enter adulthood. This story is part of an ongoing series.
Zachary Nichols is on track to graduate from high school this year. He might not have been if it wasn’t for the occupational training at Metro Career Academy (MCA), an alternative school administered by Metro Technology Centers in Oklahoma City.
This isn’t the usual high school experience. It isn’t the usual alternative school experience, either. It’s career tech blended with high school.
The result is highly motivated students who graduate from high school with employment training that gives them marketable job skills even before graduation.
“The culinary experience is something that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else,” Nichols told Oklahoma Gazette during a recent visit to the school. “I’m motivated. It keeps me well in line.”
Tessa Martin is Nichols’ English teacher. She leverages the schoolwide use of online education service Edgenuity, which offers full courses that allow students to earn credits based on their competency rather than seat time.
The online courses provide content and exercises to check for competence, which gives Martin time to work one-on-one with youth who might need her coaching on how to do the work.
It also allows her to get to know students and understand their life circumstances, creating a bond with them that becomes obvious from their conversations.
“Ms. Martin is the only English teacher that I’ve had in the last three years, so we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well and develop a connection. [She’s] always there for us,” Nichols said as his eyes welled with tears.
Martin dabbed her own eyes and said, “Y’all are going to have to stop this. You’re going to make me cry.”
Other classmates agreed that small classes with teachers who truly care make a big impact.
But it’s the occupational courses that create the unique combination that propels them toward graduation.
A love for creating was a red thread that ran through students’ narratives. The courses allow them to do that but are also to the benefit of everyone at MCA.
Culinary students create and serve family-style lunches for their peers at the school.
At each table, an assigned teacher works with groups of students to practice etiquette and interactivity lessons taught by volunteers.
Floral design students create arrangements and wall hangings that adorn the building. Yessica Oviedo said she looked forward to the class each day.
“I am creative, so my first year was really, really, really fun,” she said. “And it does pull people to school.”
MCA hopes to develop programs that meet even wider student needs.
Superintendent Elaine Stith explained that youth must take both academic and career courses while at the school. The MCA campus was developed with creativity and positivity in mind.
Generally, alternative schools are in repurposed venues. For example, the school’s former home was a warehouse.
“Six years ago, we made a conscious decision that these kids deserve a nice building just like any other student,” Stith said. “We went out and borrowed the money — around $14 million — to build this school for our students.”
Dennis Portis, Metro Tech’s associate superintendent of instruction, participated in the process of building the state-of-the-art facility. What completes its creative and positive environment, however, is school staff.
“Nothing is more important than the actual body and soul of the student,” Portis said. “We put a real, conscious, strategic effort in recruiting the very best teachers that we could find.”
That level of student care is the responsibility of Barbara Loudermilk, longtime OKCPS educator and now the director (principal) of MCA.
“It has to be the right alt-ed educator, the right partners that come in and donate their time and spend time with the kids,” Loudermilk said. “You can do that under a tent.”
Print Headline: Creative education, Alternative paths: Metro Career Academy blends occupational and academic training.