Second Start graduates get second chance at academic success
From left: Courtney Ivy (18), her brother Jake Chalmers (13) and their mother Beren Chalmers talk after eating dinner in their home in Concord on Monday, June 10, 2013. Ivy, a graduating senior at Concord High School, attributes much of her success to attending the Second Start Alternative High School Program. (TAEHOON KIM / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
As a student at Concord High School, Courtney Ivy didn’t do well with deadlines. She had a hard time completing any assignments, and as the year went on she’d stop showing up to class. Slowly, her grades fell from 90s to 60s.
“I just had a hard time finishing anything I had to do,” she said. “I would just start it and it would seem to be un-doable.”
So in the middle of her sophomore year, teachers recommended she try Second Start, an alternative education program for struggling students. During her two and a half years in the program, she was taken off her individualized education plan and became a class leader. She is also pregnant, but still achieved a 95 percent attendance rate this school year.
“I came here, and I was challenged,” she said. “It was really just a lot different than I thought it would be.”
Ivy was one of nine Second Start students to graduate from the program last Friday in a ceremony at Concord High School, and she’ll also walk across the stage at Concord High’s graduation Saturday.
Second Start is a program aimed at students who struggle at large public high schools. It provides a smaller, more personalized environment that helps many of them get back on track. The students spend half the day at Second Start, taking core classes such as math and science to earn credits toward their diploma, and the other half taking electives or other requirements at their home schools.
Each student has a unique situation that leads them to the program, be it academic, emotional or behavioral struggles. For some, the size of Concord or other area high schools is too overwhelming. Patrick Elmes of Deerfield joined Second Start because he was always acting out in class. Chelsea Connor had a
hard time handling the size of Concord and got swept into the wrong crowd when she moved there from Pittsfield her freshman year. Both, like Ivy, said that without Second Start they may not be receiving a high school diploma.
The academic and social growth students achieve at Second Start happens gradually.
At graduation, Director Ted Lambrukos joked about Ivy’s shyness when she came to Second Start. At first, her voice was barely louder than a whisper and she was somewhat of a wallflower. But over the course of her two and a half years at Second Start, she began to feel comfortable and valuable, and slowly emerged as a class leader. The personalized attention students get at Second Start – they share three teachers among about 15 students – helps many of them gain self confidence.
“She had a voice, and we like to hear it,” Lambrukos said of Ivy.
Ivy is planning on moving into the Royal Gardens apartment complex with her baby’s father this summer. Right now, she lives with her mother and 14-year-old brother, whom she is encouraging to attend Second Start.
The baby, a boy, is due in August. As for her future, Ivy is contemplating either massage therapy or a job working with children.
“I think that raising the baby will kind of help me decide what I want to do,” she said.
When Connor came to Concord from Pittsfield, she felt lost in the larger school. Near the end of Connor’s freshman year, her guidance counselor suggested she try Second Start. For her first two years, she only took classes at Second Start. The small group environment was more suited to her needs. She’ll be attending NHTI in the fall.
“I probably wouldn’t have graduated without it,” she said. “It really did help me academically. It made me more interested in school rather than just wanting to skip class.”
For Elmes, the program helped him gain respect for authority and improve his grades. At Second Start, the students call teachers by their first names, which he appreciated. The teachers were also willing to sit down and explain things to him however many times he needed, which helped him grasp the material. He plans to enter the workforce and is looking for employment.
“I used to be the kid that would get removed from classrooms at Concord High, and I was just poorly matured, didn’t really care about the world,” he said. “It just changed my complete attitude. I’m way more respectful when it comes to adults, my grades definitely improved.”
All three students seem to exemplify Second Start’s goal of taking students who struggle in traditional classrooms and helping them find success, socially, emotionally and academically. And all three said they hope other students who face challenges seriously consider enrolling in the program.
“If any kid wants to go for a second chance, (if they’re) having a harder time with Concord High or Merrimack Valley, they should definitely go to Second Start,” Elmes said. “It completely changed my life.”