Making the Grade: Examining the Valley’s High Schools
The economic downturn has forced educators throughout the region to do more with less. Here’s a look at how four local schools are helping their students succeed with innovative programs and special services. Want to know how your child’s school measures up? Check our chart, which lists stats for 65 Valley high schools
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Beacon High School
Along with art, algebra, and other “normal” high school courses, students at Beacon High School can take part in a real-life spinoff-of-sorts of the popular TV crime-show genre — you might call it “C.S.I. Beacon.”
Interim high school principal Tony DiMarco explains: “One of our most popular courses is a forensic science class, in lieu of freshman study hall. The students love it, and it touches on all the sciences. It’s very popular, and we hope to expand it.”
In addition to offering cool courses, the school’s administrators focus on open communication and fostering a sense of responsibility in students, which has resulted in dips in tardiness and no-shows, and fewer dropouts, DiMarco says.
“We’re really visible — the administrators are out in the hallways with the kids. And I personally speak with students when they’re tardy,” he says. “The idea is to get our students on track to being accountable.”
The school aims to deal sooner, rather than later, with kids who show signs of academic or behavioral challenges. It offers, for instance, a Response Team intervention program for challenged kids. “They can meet with teachers to get help in improving academics, or talk about their issues,” he says.
Beacon also provides a freshman seminar program that gives added support to “newbies” who might have had academic or other problems in middle school; kids in all grades can tap into after-school programs to get extra help.
The school partners, too, with Dutchess Community College, offering nine accelerated courses including English and social studies that carry college credits. “We also have Regents review classes; we do a lot to help prepare the kids,” says DiMarco.
Families and the surrounding Dutchess County community unite to keep the school vibrant. Beacon High conducts ongoing events such as a holiday coat drive — in 2009 donating about 100 pieces of outerwear to local charity, DiMarco says.
The school plans to launch another nifty class this year that gives hands-on training for about a dozen kids who might eventually want to go into sales or service trades, DiMarco explains.
“Bulldog Cleaners” will be a fully functioning dry-cleaning service totally run by students. “We partnered with a local dry cleaner, who will pick up, clean, and deliver the items,” he says, “but the kids will operate the business.” And we’re not talking “play money” here — DiMarco says students will open their own bank account and take in items to be cleaned from school staff customers at a special store in the school. They’ll bag and tag the clothes, learn to write up bills, tote up taxes, and keep business records.
And while Beacon High works hard at educating its kids and keeping them enthusiastic, the administration is keeping a wary eye on ongoing state budget cuts.
“We’ve had to tighten our belts, but so far, fortunately, there have been no major reductions here,” says DiMarco. “All these cuts and reductions make everybody in the education field nervous. The bottom line is to support our kids in the best way we can.”