YES Prep makes a promise to families that their students will grow in our schools and become academically and socially ready for the world beyond graduation. However, if students make a mistake that could result in expulsion, schools face the challenge of prioritizing safety and accountability while ensuring that promise is fulfilled. In January, School Director Amanda Rawlings will launch a short-term, flexible academic program for YES Prep and KIPP Houston students who need individualized supports outside the traditional education setting so that we can continue to fulfill our promise to these students and their families. The Hurwitz Empowerment Program will provide a space for students who break the code of conduct to reflect, grow in confidence and self-awareness, and re-discover both their potential and their personal areas of need. The program will launch this spring with 10 students, but will continue to expand over the course of the next two years until it serves between 50 and 130 students.
The alternative restorative program grew out of the desire to ensure that, if a student and family chooses YES Prep or KIPP, we will not un-choose them. “At YES, we were having conversations about how we could continue to support more and more students and live out all the pieces of our mission,” said founding School Director of the Hurwitz Empowerment Program, Amanda Rawlings. “We’d already seen some success in campus recommitment programs that offered students an alternative setting within their campus. We were also researching the feasibility of an alternative school in a working group. KIPP was having similar conversations about how to better support students with higher support needs.” KIPP’s Fisher fellowship, a fellowship that prepares leaders to open a school, was the perfect platform to found the alternative program.
Rawlings, a former Director of Student Support at YES Prep East End, was passionate about finding alternative supports for students . “I have a lot of respect and passion for work that seeks to figure out the root of what is going on with kids and then responds by providing supports to meet their needs,” she said. Through the Fisher fellowship, Rawlings was able to work with a cohort of other future school leaders to plan the alternative program and engage in professional development. She also visited alternative programs in New Orleans, D.C., and Kansas to see other models of alternative programs. “At first, I was hesitant about the label ‘alternative’ because there is a public perception that these schools are ineffective and just collect students that other schools couldn’t or wouldn’t educate. But I saw alternative schools that were providing supports, treating kids with respect, privacy, and dignity, and empowering them to own their own pathways and needs,” she said.
Rawlings took many lessons from her fellowship, including staffing the campus with an equal number of teachers and counselors, using data to create individualized support plans and goals for students, employing counselors as care coaches to help students transition back to their home campus with support, and equipping the campus with a digital curriculum. “In the schools I visited, I saw a delicate balance between flexibility and structure and prioritizing responses to students’ needs. Students had some freedom and were building of confidence in themselves,” Rawlings said.
A typical day at the Hurwitz Program may look different depending on the student. Generally, students will start their day with a community gathering where students give shout outs and welcome new students. They will then begin a 90-minute socio-emotional learning block led by counselors. In this block, students will have circle time, socio-emotional skill building, and social justice projects to give students power to disrupt the systems they feel passionate about. Students might also attend drug/alcohol counseling or meet with college counselors. Students will then begin a 90 minute literacy block that will be split between personal learning via a digital program and literacy remediation in small groups with teachers. Students will also have a 90 minute math block– again split between personal learning and remediation in small groups. After math, students will have a block of science and social studies followed by a flexible block where they’ll participate in online electives and/or foreign language classes, remediation, tutorials, and clubs. The day will close with a quick circle.
The program is about students realizing the true strengths within them and owning their education.
Students will enter the Hurwitz Empowerment Program in two cases– as an alternative option to expulsion from their home campus or as a preventative referral where the campus has already tried multiple interventions and supports but the student could benefit from the small, individualized setting of the Hurwitz Empowerment Program. After the referral, the Hurwitz staff, home campus representatives, parents or guardians, and the student will meet to set the academic and socio-emotional goals and intervention plan. There is no pre-determined time for how long the student will remain at Hurwitz since they each will have an individualized plan. Once they have the tools to transition back to their home campus, their care coach and the home campus staff will provide supports.
“The program is about students realizing the true strengths within them and owning their education,” Rawlings said. As stated in the mission and vision, the Hurwitz Empowerment Program strives to “individually serve students academically and socially so they confidently become their highest selves and are prepared to navigate and succeed in the competitive world beyond.”