Photo Credit: Lawrence Public Schools

Lawrence Public Schools’ graduation rates were declining while Kansas’ overall rates have improved. The program was created as a dropout prevention program and provides students with a smaller learning environment and exposure to career training through the district’s college and career pathways.

Student demographics for the district, which is in the same city as the University of Kansas, are: white 75.1%, Hispanic 7.2%, Asian 5.9%, Black 5.0%, American Indian/Alaskan 2.4%, and Pacific Islander 0.1%.

There are many factors causing students not to finish high school. There are push-out factors (suspension, grades, safety), pull-out factors (pregnancy, illness, work to support others), and fall-out factors (no sense of belonging, no family support). When these circumstances occur in a large school setting, students can easily get lost and discouraged. School administrators and teachers would often have conversations with students who were either disengaged, experiencing anxiety, or might have had some event that was taking them away from regular attendance.

At the time, there were only two options for these students: Make a plan and figure it out or drop out and get your GED. School leaders believed the district could do better. They decided to use empty space at the existing College & Career Center, where many CTE pathways were housed, to give these at-risk students access to career pathways and a flexible, nontraditional high school experience.

The College & Career Academy is designed to support students from two district high schools who have previously not been successful in the traditional high school setting. Students accepted to the academy are generally credit-deficient and do not have a strong history of attendance and engagement in school.

The academy is in its third year, which means the first year occurred during COVID. It has had a steady enrollment of 75 students each year. In 2021-22, it graduated 44 students previously at risk of not graduating. It has demonstrated increases in attendance and credit acquisition as well as decreases in behavior incidents due largely to the focus on student social and emotional well-being and restorative practices.

The College & Career Academy prepares students for self-sustainability through learning academic, career, social, and emotional skills leading to high school graduation, career path employment, and successful completion of a wide variety of postsecondary education opportunities.

Students who choose to attend the academy experience:

  • Daily health, wellness, and prevention programming
  • Daily academic support programming
  • Individualized academic skill development designed
    to meet graduation requirements
  • Career skill development that leads to high-demand, self-sustaining careers

Integrated courses that identify the relevancy of academic content and provide links to career interests.

Students work on academic or core graduation requirements while also taking career preparation courses. They select a career cohort comprised of students with similar career interests. These include business and computer technology, culinary arts, design, production, and repair (including automotive mechanics, welding, and construction), health science, early childhood education, and teaching as a career.

Academy students spoke before the school board, telling members that the school has given them a sense of a community they didn’t feel at the larger high schools. One student, who had been on the brink of dropping out, said the academy gave her hope and the career skills to plan for her life after graduation.

Lawrence Public Schools is an NSBA 2022 Magna Award winner.

Read the original article and learn more about the Magna Awards and the 2023 winners at the 2023 Magna Awards Grand Prize Winners (