For students who have not always found success in school, the Herkimer BOCES Pathways Academy at Remington provides an alternative way to finish high school ready to pursue college or a career.
Pathways Academy opened its doors to students in September in Ilion’s former Remington Elementary School, which is now called the Remington Educational Complex.
An open house for the community took place there on Sept. 12.
Pathways has a simple goal — to make certain that every student, regardless of past performance or learning obstacle, receives the greatest opportunity for a solid education based on today’s learning standards and one that prepares those students for the future, according to a news release.
Pathways combines a range of struggling learners in one location — special education, adjustment classes and regional education, often referred to as alternative education, according to the release.
The idea makes perfect sense, said Chris Groves, Herkimer BOCES assistant director of academic services.
“Despite the diversity of their learning challenges, the students have common needs,” he said in the release. “Putting these students under one roof makes it easier to provide them with critical wrap-around services such as counseling and more individualized instruction. Putting it all together in one building rather than scattered in different school districts and BOCES buildings makes it more equitable. We are able to reach more students and do more with what we have for resources.”
A real education
Groves stresses that Pathways is a real school, not a “holding place.” Students earn regular credits in math, science, social studies and English language arts. They also meet art, music and physical education requirements. The full curriculum allows students to pick up needed classes they may have missed for academic or personal reasons, according to the release.
Equally important, Pathways offers students the same New York mandated Common Core curriculum as their home districts.
What sets Pathways apart is that it delivers that curriculum in different ways to different students — in pathways. And that instruction is infused with career clusters.
Groves offered this explanation of the education model: “Say your eighth-grade social studies class is studying the aqueducts of the ancient world. Instead of simply explaining what an aqueduct was and how it was used, the teacher might ask how an aqueduct might be used today in agriculture or health professions or one of 14 other career clusters. It helps students relate what happened in the past to what they may one day do in their own lives.”
Tying concepts together and helping students relate to those concepts is a daily challenge. Teachers rely heavily on project-based learning where students might combine their math and science skills or ELA and social studies skills to demonstrate their understanding of a certain lesson, according to the release.
Page 2 of 3 - Pathways also offers students smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction than their home districts can offer. This allows teachers to more carefully monitor each student’s progress and to adjust teaching styles and lessons to better reach each child, according to the release.
To broaden its offerings, the school makes full use of technology by providing online instruction in many classes. Groves is quick to distinguish between distance learning and online learning.
“In distance learning, a student sits in front of screen and watches a teacher in some other place teach in the traditional way,” he said. “In online learning, a student directly interacts with education software. Again, it is tailored to that student and his or her strengths and weaknesses.”
Big pluses for all
Groves stressed that Pathways has been a win-win for everyone.
“One of the most important things is that this was an opportunity to work with Central Valley School District to get kids in classrooms rather than letting a school building sit dormant. It’s good for kids; it’s good for BOCES and Central Valley; and it’s good for the community,” he said.
Taking the school from concept to reality has been a rewarding exercise for Pathways staff.
“We began with a planning committee that involved everyone. People volunteered their time. They shared ownership and investment in this idea. We all have come to share a vision,” said Graves. Although the community and staff benefit, it is the students who benefit the most.
Having a separate school has enabled the staff to build the program around a “Positive Intervention and Support Model.”
Everything, from how people speak to student discipline, revolves around creating an encouraging environment, according to the release.
Groves said that many of these students have not experienced good things in their lives, at home or in school. This overarching theme helps children taste success in education and provides them with a desire to continue that success beyond the classroom, according to the release.
Early signs say it’s working
At Pathways Academy’s open house, students and parents walked the hallways, visited with teachers and staff and enjoyed refreshments in the cafeteria.
The students themselves were quick to offer their praise for the program.
Ryan Werpechowski is an eleventh-grader taking U.S. history and government, English 11, career and tech skills online and gym at Pathways. He travels to the Herkimer BOCES career tech center in East Herkimer for the information technology program.
“I actually enjoy (Pathways),” he said. “I recommend it to any school, to anybody. You get more assistance and help. Everyone is friendly. It’s like a big family.”
Page 3 of 3 - Phil Collins, a tenth-grader, echoed a similar experience.
“I like it a lot better (than my former school),” he said. “There are not as many kids in a class; we can get the help we need.”
As a parent, Phil’s mother, Linda Collins, is very pleased with that individualized approach.
“We are impressed with the program and impressed with the dedication of all the staff,” she said. “They take the time to learn a little bit of the background of each of their students.”
Groves admits it is still early to call the program an absolute success, but it has shown promise. He said the internal design is in place and the challenge is working out the details. The staff is hard at work to make the concept a reality, and he expects that Pathways Academy will soon be a cutting-edge learning facility.