“Our mission is not only to get these kids to where they can graduate, but to prepare and equip them to where they can get a job,” Howard said. “We tried to align our vision (and) our mission to employability. Whether it’s after high school or college, eventually we all have to land a job. We have to make these students employable so that when they leave here they can be successful.”
Howard charged the students with finding a name that represented them and was relevant to what the school was trying to accomplish.
After going through all the suggested names, Phoenix Academy was a unanimous choice by the students and a name Howard said described his students well.
“The phoenix is a mythical creature that ends up crashing and burning and then rising up from the ashes.
A lot of our kids enter our building after not succeeding in other buildings and not making the best decisions, and when they leave our program they rise above that and become the people that they were meant to be,” Howard said. “I think it is very fitting for our students, our building, our program to have something that represents our students for what they are; wonderful young men and women that have overcome obstacles in their lives.”
Along with the new name, Howard worked with the students to make other changes at the school based on the employability model as well, including making some changes to the dress code and the student evaluation process.
Students had a part in all the decisions along the way and senior Bo Beam said the students appreciated it.
“We’ve never had any input about what went on at school before. Sometimes our input is good and sometimes it’s not, but it was nice that we were given some say-so in things and that they listen to us,” Beam said. “Everybody has been excited about the new name and the dress code and the changes and I think more focused now.”
Howard said he has noticed a difference in the students during the process.
“Now this is their school. This was a big step for our kids to take ownership of this and to have a sense of belonging to the school. There’s a new atmosphere in the building now and a sense of pride. It has been a great thing,” Howard said.
Student council member Jason Pearsall made an impression on the school board Tuesday when he told them that he never liked school and dropped out of George Rogers Clark High School, but after returning to classes at the Phoenix Academy, he now loves it, and actually wants to get up and go to school every day.
Superintendent Elaine Farris said moments like those remind teachers why they became educators.
“If you ever get to a point that you don’t know why you are an educator, just go visit Phoenix Academy and you will be reminded that that is why we come to work everyday,” Farris said. “These students are proud of who they are and we have some excellent teachers there who have wrapped their arms around these students and said to them, ‘you matter,” and I think that is what it is really all about.”
Howard said hearing Pearsall’s comment reaffirms that the school is doing things right and making a difference in the lives of its students.
Contact Bob Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.