On June 25, a group of teenagers did something they once thought was unlikely, if not outright impossible: they graduated from high school.
Seventeen students received their diplomas from the OCM BOCES Career Academy, an alternative high school program housed at the BOCES campus on Crown Road in Liverpool, in its first-ever commencement exercises. The program accepts kids from the Liverpool, North Syracuse, Baldwinsville and Fayetteville-Manlius districts who struggled in a more traditional high school setting.
"This program was started because the people in these very large schools were seeing a significant number of really wonderful students falling through the cracks," said Career Academy Principal Colleen Zawadski. "They struggled academically and socially and they just weren't succeeding there."
Disturbed by what they were seeing, North Syracuse Superintendent Jerome Melvin, Liverpool Assistant Superintendent Maureen Patterson and OCM BOCES Assistant Superintendent Colleen Viggiano met to discuss a solution. They came up with the Career Academy, which puts students in smaller classes with more hands-on learning opportunities and more one-on-one contact with their teachers. It is built on the framework of the National Career Academy, integrating hands-on learning with real-life job experiences.
At the Career Academy's Liverpool campus as well as the BOCES facility on Thompson Road, ninth- through 12th-graders get a different kind of learning experience. The curriculum incorporates traditional classes like math, English and social studies, preparing kids for Regents exams, and hands-on learning experiences like internships and job shadowing.
The initial group of kids was made up of ninth- and 10th-graders from Liverpool and North Syracuse.
"We had a lot of repeat ninth-graders," Zawadski said. "We actually only had about three or four legitimate 10th-graders. But they did a lot of what we call credit recovery -- summer school, doubling up, everything they had to do to graduate with their class."