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North Nicholas High offers learning alternative

By Staff | Mar 14, 2009

By MCKENZIE CASSIDY, mcassidy@breezenewspapers.com
Not every student flourishes in a traditional public school.
For those who find it difficult to complete their high school diploma in a 9-to-5 school and need an alternative, there is North Nicholas High.
Melissa Thach, 19, enrolled at half a dozen different schools in Lee County before attending North Nicholas at the end of 2008.
“I was in foster care and moved around a lot — it was hard to do classes,” said Thach.
Thach said she missed so many days at each of her schools — including Cape Coral High, North Fort Myers High, Life Skills and one in West Palm Beach — that it was impossible to keep up with daily lessons. In many instances her transfer to a new school was in the middle of the year and required her to learn a semester’s worth of material.
“When I work here I begin at the beginning of a class and work at my own pace,” she said.
After earning back many of her lost credits over the past four years, Thach plans on taking the ASVAB test to enter the National Guard as a military police officer. And later, she wants to pursue a career as a law enforcement officer.
Already the school has had two graduates in December and expects to graduate between 25 and 30 this June.
Accelerated Learning Solutions, the parent company of North Nicholas High, has another school in Fort Myers and other locations throughout the state. It isn’t a behavior school or a place for those who have dropped out; instead it’s an alternative for at-risk students who need a change.
North Nicholas is a charter school contracted with the Lee County School District. Like students in traditional institutions they have to take the FCAT and follow district policies.
One hundred students first enrolled at the school when it opened in August 2008 but, according to Principal Mike D’Angelo, there are now more than 400. Furthermore, the school is now at capacity and requires prospective applicants to enter a waiting list.
There is no single reason why students choose to attend North Nicholas, said D’Angelo.
“We have 400 students and 400 different reasons why students have come to us,” said D’Angelo.
The school has certified instructors but all lessons are administered online. During lessons they have to demonstrate proficiency in a subject and can’t earn a grade lower than a C.
This is coupled with a digital “dashboard” that shows them class grades, progress towards graduation, short- and long-term goals, and comments from staff.
D’Angelo said that teachers act more as facilitators to the computer-based curriculum where students earn credits on their own watch.
“They can move as fast as they can,” said D’Angelo. “Some earn credits at a rapid pace and for some it takes longer.”
Many of the students also work full time and have a choice to go to school in one of three different shifts. An evening shift was recently added as a result of increased demand for classes.
“Most of them have jobs and most don’t like traditional school settings,” said Magic Benton, an instructional aide.
English teacher George Treglia said the school offers a rigid curriculum of the four core classes — English, math, science or social studies — and electives including health, physical education, work experience and foreign language. In fact many universities, such as Florida Gulf Coast University, require students to complete hours of community service.
Treglia said the system used at North Nicholas affords students their own feeling of ownership, especially since their personal dashboard displays a breakdown of their academic progress.
“The software blends itself into a sense of ownership in learning,” he said.
Benton said it lets each student know exactly what they need to do to achieve a higher grade.
“It tells you grade average so you know you have to get better grades to move the GPA up,” said Benton.
Overall the school stresses the importance of a high school diploma. According to statistics from Education Week in 2006, the average high school graduate earns approximately $10,000 more per year than a dropout.
For more information on North Nicholas High, visit www.yourdiplomayourway.com