A pilot program that aims to give older refugee and immigrant students a shot at graduating from high school before they turn 21 has changed locations and teaching strategies in its first year.
The Multicultural Academy is operated by Ombudsman Educational Services, a company that contracts with the Sioux Falls School District to educate a range of alternative high school students. It opened last August inside the downtown Multicultural Center but recently moved to the school district’s Career and Technical Education Academy.
“We were pushed for space,” Superintendent Pam Homan said during a tour Wednesday with the school board.
The program was designed as a two-year pilot for Ombudsman, which has alternative schools in many states but never has had a school for non-English speakers.
Jay Wange, the math teacher and interim director, said he has about 74 students in two four-hour shifts.
The students started out the year working independently at computers with help from teachers. But during the year, Wange said, they moved to more face-to-face instruction because the students weren’t grasping enough content.
Similar to Joe Foss alternative school and Ombudsman’s alternative high school, the computer-based instruction at the Multicultural Academy is designed to allow students to attain more credits faster. Wange said students can earn 4.5 credits in a semester rather than the traditional three.
The program targets 17- and 18-year-olds who enter the school district with no graduation credits and who otherwise probably would be forced to drop out after turning 21.
Wange said almost every student is self-motivated. Some show up at 7 a.m., 45 minutes before class, eager to get to work. And because they’re no longer in the Multicultural Center downtown, the students are free to show up early or stay longer.
“They’re serious about their education,” he said.
Its new home, the CTE Academy, provides a range of career and technical classes for students in the Sioux Falls district, as well as some tuition-paying students from surrounding districts. But it has enough space for the Multicultural Academy for now and will host Academy of Finance classes for the first time next year as well; that program had been run out of Washington and Roosevelt High Schools.
CTE Academy Principal Jim Kayl said having the immigrant and refugee students in the same building will give them access to such classes as culinary arts and auto technology.
Kayl said he plans to add a computer technology and networking program at the high school this fall, and he’s looking into starting an aviation program in 2014.