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Spire Program Provides Drop-out Prevention

Contributed by UNC reporter, Adam Phan: 

Families and friends gathered on the evening of January 31 to celebrate eight Phoenix Academy High School (PAHS) fall semester graduates – five of whom were enrolled in Spire, a  program that serves students at serious risk of dropping out of school. 

Implemented in January 2018, the Spire Dropout Prevention and Recovery Program is an individualized evening education initiative focusing on students who:  are at risk of dropping out or have already done so; are unable to attend classes during the day; or are about to age out of the school system due to state law.

 “There were some students who weren’t able to be served during the day because of work, or they were supporting and taking care of themselves or their family,” said John Williams, PAHS principal and creator of Spire.

Spire students at PAHS PAHS is the only CHCCS school to offer this program, which runs Monday through Thursday from 4-8 p.m. Spire students receive course work through approved online programs, such as NC Virtual Public School, Apex Learning Virtual School and Google Classroom, in addition to one-on-one instructional assistance from the teaching staff and access to student support services. 

Greg Carson, CHCCS achievement coach and Spire supervisor, said administrators and social workers from the three other high schools identify potential dropouts and arrange meetings with him to determine if Spire is a good fit for a student. Carson said before Spire was created, it was always the parents and educators telling students what to do, but now students are in charge of their own education. “I put it in their hands, and I let them know we're their partners,” he said. “We will give them everything we have to give them. If they don't take advantage of it, they will not graduate.”

Spire is currently operating at maximum capacity, with 12 students enrolled in the program. While there are 10 students on a waitlist, Carson said he is working to move two of them into Spire, since they are about to age out of school.

Once students have been successfully re-engaged in the education process, Williams said they have three options: they can graduate from Spire, transition back to their home school or transition to PAHS full time. 

Carson said one of the biggest challenges for students in Spire is attendance. “They have to acknowledge the fact that we can't help them unless they're here. They’re more used to missing school than being at school,” Carson said. “If they're serious about finishing their education and doing better, then that has to be the key thing – you have to be here so we can better serve you.”

After enrolling in Spire last spring, Kassidy Plummer began attending PAHS in the fall. She had connected with Carson after dropping out of Chapel Hill High School her junior year. Despite some difficulty readjusting back to school, she said she has seen significant improvement in every subject during her time in the program.

“I've improved in my reading skills and went up about 200 points,” said Plummer, who is set to graduate in June. “In math, I went up 100 points. For English on my exam, I got an 80. And I passed all my classes with A’s.”

Since the program’s launch, 15 students have graduated from Spire who would have been dropouts, Williams said. Although the program has helped many students succeed and earn their diplomas, there have been three or four students who have dropped out. “We've had students who just came in, and once they realized they were in charge of their own education, they weren't ready for that and they just stopped,” Williams said. “We try to get them back, but they were on their way out no matter what.”

 While the program has been a success, Williams said he recognizes the need for childcare for students who are parents, as well as transportation, which is a big barrier for some students.  Another need is better pay for staff.

“Let's make sure that we provide for these things so the children can continue to come to school,” Williams said. “It's not enough just to increase our graduation rate within the district on the backs of the children, but we need to take a part of it, too.”