Tailoring students’ classes for flexible learning

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At Daniels Learning Center, teachers try to meet students where they are.

Daniels is Wilson County Schools’ only alternative school.

“You find their skill and you find their level and you work with that level,” said Jennifer Parker, principal at the school. “That’s my philosophy with these kids. Each one of these kids has something that they are good at, especially a subject, too. Some of them are really good at math. Some of them are really good at reading. Some of them are really bad at science, really bad at social studies. We try to meet them where they are and just promote them positively.”

Daniels has 80 students ages 12 to 16.

“We provide a more flexible environment for students,” Parker said. “This year we are focused more on helping kids catch up academically. Our students are around two or three grade levels behind where they should be.”

The school takes students based on principal referrals from base schools.

“This is not a bad kid school,” Parker said. “You are here for a reason, and it’s probably not just because of academics.”

Some students are referred for behavioral reasons; others are referred because they need a more flexible schedule due to personal circumstances.

Seven teachers plus an instructional coordinator help guide the students to a point where they can get back on track and prepared to go back to their base school.

“We’ve got six or seven different programs running at one time, which is something that we pride ourselves in because we are trying to meet their needs,” said Steve Ellis, special assistant to the superintendent. “Every kid is not the same here at Daniels.”

Some kids go to school all day, and some do half days.

“You can range from a kid that is two years behind in middle school to a high school kid that dropped out last semester that might be pregnant and might need a job and comes over here and takes a three-hour session and graduates on time,” Ellis said.

Administrators try to fit the students’ needs since they may not be able to go to school for a traditional school day.

In recently released end-of-grade and end-of-class scores, Daniels students scored lower than any other school, but administrators said to look past the numbers.

“On paper, you see a number that looks very low, but with the deficiencies of our students coming in, the fact that we show growth in every category is a big first for us, and we take those growth moments and run with them,” Parker said.

“We don’t have the same group of kids year to year, so we can’t really compare from year to year. It’s kind of like apples to oranges, but as long as we keep showing that growth, that’s what we are looking for because that’s how we know that we are successful in the instruction that we are giving, no matter who the kid is.”

Ellis said years ago there was no growth at all. That is not the case now.

“That’s good for us because we can say they came here one year and they grew, which is what the state wants us to do,” Ellis said. “We can send them back to the base school at least with a positive number.”

“We’ve got kids in this school that probably haven’t passed an EOG since the third grade, so we are used to that part,” Ellis said.

The Gentlemen’s Agreement program was started in the fall of 2015 at Beddingfield, Fike and Hunt high schools to support young men.

There have been numerous success stories of students who have come through Daniels,” said Maurice Barnes, who started The Gentlemen’s Agreement. “As a result of a small environment and a team of folks that care about them, they return to their base school and they are on a path to success. The key to that is they come to an environment where they are reaffirmed as to who they are. Having a student to look at themselves different and see that they are capable and they do possess these abilities to reach their dreams, their goals, their ambitions, that is one of the geniuses of this program.”

The main focus, Parker said, is to change the perception in the community of Daniels Learning Center.

“We want to show that we are just as positive of a learning environment as any traditional school and that we just love our kids and want to see them grow as much as possible,” Parker said. “We just want to provide a smaller, more blended learning environment so we can tailor to every kid’s learning style. We are in full belief that each one of these kids is good at something.”

Daniels Learning Center was the Wilson County Schools School of the Year in 2015.