A helpful twist on education for at-risk students

Discussion intensifies on ‘School Within a School’ concept at TAHS

By Per Peterson

While the exact population of at-risk students at Tracy Area High School is ambiguous at best, Principal Kathy Vondracek is well aware that there are students at the school who could use extra support and guidance in a non-traditional classroom setting.

That’s why she’s pushing hard to develop “School Within a School” — an in-house learning and mentoring program designed to support those students who otherwise might fall between the cracks of more traditional curriculum.

“This is kind of a way to dip our toes into trying something different,” Vondracek told the District No. 2904 School Board at its December meeting. “I would say that we had five kids at our school last year that left that I think this would’ve been awesome for. We’ll have more. I don’t see the mental health needs getting any better, and the home lives for some kids isn’t getting any better. We need to dig in, get committed and start this.”

The ultimate goal of the program is to help students in need. The main objectives of the program from the district’s point of view, Vondracek said, would be to prevent students from dropping out of high school, open-enroll with arbitrary online alternative learning options and keep TAHS students in the building by meeting their individual needs, progressing them toward graduation and getting them career and college ready. In doing so, a district that continues to see enrollment numbers stumble, would be able to keep more of its students on campus.

“This type of a concept is for unique students,” Vondracek said. “It might be students where a traditional school setting just isn’t the right fit. Those unique students are identified as those who don’t see traditional schooling as a good fit, who are overwhelmed, who have mental or physical health needs that limit them or those whose home environment and family needs don’t support a traditional setting.”

In serving at-risk students with “School Within a School,” the school would create a setting that builds in flexibility to the students’ day, giving them the support of licensed teachers in their content area, using Edmentum — an online core course curriculum that allows each student to work at their own pace — and allowing students to deal with their social-emotional, and physical and mental health needs.

For more on this article, see this week’s Headlight-Herald.