Yesenia isn’t unique at SCCS. She will be joined by 10 classmates who will get their degrees as part of the second graduating class. “That might sound like a small number, but our school is small. We are actually graduating almost 25 percent of our students,” Yurwitz says. SCCS is small by design, allowing for the very personal attention and high level of support needed to help these students. Working in a very cramped space in the Museum Place Mall has limited their ability to grow. “We’ll be moving into new space shortly and that’s when we can look at bringing in more students,” says Yurwitz. “There is a real need for a program to serve the needs of these students and we have a waiting list for fall.”
SCCS combines small classrooms, individual attention, access to support services, and an approach to academics called “competency-based education” where students’ progress is not measured by how much time they sit in a classroom, but their ability to show competency in different academic areas. “What we find with our students is they often have ‘holes’ in their knowledge. It’s not that they don’t know all of algebra, but they might have missed a particular piece of that class and therefore can’t pass traditional comprehensive tests. We’re able to see where those holes are and address them.” Competency-based education is starting to catch on in public schools around the country and even at some colleges. “We want them to show for what they do know, rather than forcing them to repeat lessons they’ve already learned,” explains Yurwitz.
Edwin Baez was one of the lucky ones to get into the first class at SCCS. Like Yesenia, Edwin will be graduating this summer. He too has had to balance school with raising a child. On top of that, he works 15 hours a week after school training dogs. He thinks the key to SCCS is the way the staff approach students at the school. “They treat us like adults. We’re in charge of our own lives. The responsibility is on us.” Like Yesenia, Edwin has gotten more than educational instruction while at SCCS, he’s gotten support for all aspects of his life. Through connections made at SCCS, he is participating in a fathers support group at Journeys of Hope and has gotten other help from Catholic Charities. “Students support each other here. We all have different stories, but you can always find something you can relate to. You form a bond.”