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New High School Renews Sense of Opportunity

By JL Watson | December 6, 2008 | News-Press.com


With no sports teams, no school mascot and few extracurricular activities, the new North Nicholas High School might sound like something akin to a prison for many students.

Yet for the 300 students, ages 16 to 21, who have chosen to attend the school since it opened in August, the school’s stark contrast to a traditional high school is freeing.

“There’s not a lot of drama here,” said Kayla Boyd, 17.

Boyd, a senior, attended Cape Coral High School and Ida Baker High School before landing at North Nicholas. She said she was looking for something different from her earlier high school experiences.

“I didn’t like the social part,” she said. “It was focused on cliques.”

Boyd was poised to earn a General Educational Development (GED) degree when she learned about North Nicholas High School. The school offered her the opportunity to graduate with a diploma from an accredited school and apply to colleges.

“I like school now,” Boyd said. “I like that it’s up to you to get your work done. It allows students who don’t fit into a regular high school to earn a diploma.”

That’s the vision of the school, which is a member of the Charter School Accelerated Learning Association.

Principal Mike D’Angelo has worked in larger schools, but he saw the advantages of taking the helm of a school with a slightly different feel than a traditional high school.

“We’re here to address the needs of each student more than anything else,” D’Angelo said. “We have a lot of kids trying to make the right choices.”

Some students have dropped out and want to go back to school; some students juggle parenthood and a job with an education; and some just want a different experience than a traditional high school offers.

What students give up in school spirit they gain with a flexible schedule. Classes take place from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 and from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Students may attend one or both sessions, depending on how fast they want to complete the coursework.

Students work on self-paced computer programs, leaving no chance to slide through a class with minimal participation or attendance. Students must sign in, and their work is monitored by counselors and teachers. They must complete each class before progressing to the next level.

“Students choose to come here,” D’Angelo said. “We talk to them about what their expectations are.”

Teacher Julie Maguire was a public school teacher and opted to join the new school.

“I saw a real need for kids who were falling through the cracks,” she said. “The idea of starting a school from scratch was nice.”

Maguire oversees a room full of students, but she isn’t giving lectures. Instead, she circulates, asking students if they need help with their assignments. Most are intently focused on the computer screen, preparing for tests or reading new material. Maguire reviews their work and helps get them to the next level.

“The other neat thing here is career coaching,” she said. “It helps them get jobs. We have to make sure they have a plan.”

For student Mike Ali, 17, that plan includes college.

Ali got behind in credits at Mariner High School, but he is catching up since enrolling at North Nicholas High.

“I work better with small groups,” he said.

Ali found an unexpected benefit from the self-paced program.

“It made life easier for me,” he said. “It motivates me more. I can get credits faster so I can go to college sooner.”