New Alternative School Offers Youth a Positive Perspective
Norma Porter | 2/24/2010, 9:34 p.m.
G.E.D Prep and Life Skills Courses Offered
Neljen Glover sits in a small room in a row house with his math teacher Fred Oluwole Ogunware and together they sort out the solutions to basic mathematical problems.
The pupil, listens as his teacher provides the formulas necessary to master addition and subtraction equations. He scribbles notations and helpful hints in his black-and-white composition book careful not to miss a word.
It may sound elementary to most, but for Glover, 19, it's an opportunity to start over in the plus column.
"I dropped out of high school my senior year because I didn't have enough credits and my community service hours were very low," Glover said.
After I dropped out, my life went downhill. But, I'm going to bring it back up. It doesn't matter how long it takes, I'm going to get my G.E.D, he said confidently.
Glover, who lives in Northeast, dropped out of high school during his senior year at the Kingsbury Center in Northwest, a nonprofit school for children and adults with learning disabilities.
Today, he attends a G.E.D. program during the week at Adult Curriculum and Educational Services (A.C.E.S.), a new, nonprofit alternative school in Northeast that recently opened.
The school has also provided a new beginning for Ogunware, a former special education teacher at Ballou Senior High School in Southeast. Ogunware was among the 266 teachers who were fired during the District's Reduction-in-Force in October. Large high schools like Ballou don't provide students like Glover the one-on-one attention they need to succeed, he said.
"These students have the potential to learn fast and succeed, but the teachers in these high schools don't like them and they don't really care about them," Ogunware said.
I know what it takes to teach these students and this program is designed so that they succeed. I am not making all of the money, but it's not always about the money. I am happy here.
That's what Lisa Russell likes to hear.
As founder and CEO of A.C.E.S., Russell said, young people like Glover motivated her to open the school that now serves a group of seven students.
Russell said that her brother is serving a 25-year-to-life prison sentence in a California correctional facility. He's the reason why she has dedicated her life to helping young people avoid mistakes that could derail their lives.
Then again, she's no novice when it comes to working with at-risk youth.
Russell has worked as a placement specialist for special education students in the District's public school system and as the assistant director of the Incarcerated Youth Program at D.C. Jail, positions she held prior to venturing out on her own.
"My motivation is very personal. A lot of students that we serve have had some sort of relationship with the law and because of that a lot of people have shied away from wanting to service them, but for me, that is what drives me to want to service them," Russell, 43, said.
If I could save a family from going through what my family has gone through then I have made a difference.
Council member Michael Brown (I-At-Large) supports Russell's effort to help educate District youth who have gone down the wrong path.
Just because you went through a troubled part of your life, no matter what is was, there's no reason why you can't wake up one day and say I want to go back to school," Brown said.
You should be able to do that [and] there should be avenues [like A.C.E.S.] to do that.
Danny Beckford who lives in Northwest, said the opportunity to attend A.C.E.S. arrived at the right time.
Beckford, 20, said that he was expelled from Roosevelt Senior High School in Northwest, three years ago because of his conduct. He was referred to Rock Creek Academy in Northwest by District public school [personnel] after being tested for learning disabilities. Last year he was expelled from Rock Creek for being absent too many times.
"I got put out of school last year and was getting ready to enroll at Coolidge Senior High School, but then I got a post card in the mail about A.C.E.S. It came at the right time," he said.
Glover and Beckford both agree that the school's small classroom sizes, emphasis on job readiness and life skills makes A.C.E.S. standout among the other schools they previously attended.
"Other programs didn't fit me. My parents and my advisor wanted me to enroll at Dunbar, but I wouldn't learn anything there," Glover said.
I wanted to be put somewhere where I didn't know anyone and where I could also work on finding a career. This is a good place for me to be.
Beckford totally agrees with his schoolmate.
There aren't a lot of people, and the teachers here take you through the steps and make sure that you understand stuff, he said.
This is the best place for me.