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DREAM Academy shows early signs of success in District U46

The effort to revamp District U46’s alternative education program has been met by a number of changes since last year and is showing early signs of success, officials said.

The state of the program was highlighted in a recent presentation given to the U46 Board of Education.

The Dedication Responsibility Education Attitude and Motivation Academy, also know as the DREAM Academy, stems from the former Gifford Street High School, which was primarily used for credit recovery. District U46 now allows and has credit recovery at all five comprehensive schools.

Prior history at the former Gifford Street High School showed low attendance rates in addition to a high number of fights as well as out-of-school suspensions.

In 2010-11, data at middle and high schools indicate that 72 percent of students sent there were on the district’s 2/5 list. This report shows that numbers are failing two or more classes and have been absent five or more days.

Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools, Instruction, and Equity Dr. Terri Lozier said the former program wasn’t serving its purpose well in helping to transition students back to their home schools.

“We had more students at Gifford Street on a 2/5 list than we actually had from the comprehensive high schools,” she said. “When we started looking at the data, we realized that what Gifford Street was looking to accomplish was not actually working. So, (U46 CEO Tony) Sanders gave me the charge of looking at the data and seeing what we could do to change our alternative programs.”

Lourdes Baker, DREAM Academy principal, said the revamped program’s vision is not only different but it’s also clearer.

“We worked with the [Elgin Teachers Association] to rewrite the job description,” she said. “We wanted to make sure that our teachers had the proper to training to be able to work with students that had trauma in their lives, that had difficulty in the regular classroom setting. We wanted to make sure they were well trained, that they knew their content area, and that they had knowledge of the common core standards.”

The DREAM Academy is funded by the state through an Alternative Learning Opportunities grant program.

By state law, a student is eligible for enrollment in the DREAM academy up to two years.

Aaron Butler, DREAM Academy assistant principal, said getting families engaged has been easy to this point and is playing a crucial role in the program’s success.

Butler, noting the number of people in attendance for parent-teacher conferences and phone calls made to parents at home, said the positive messages out weight the negative.

“We have students that now have success of ‘I’m an A and B student, not a C-D student’ because of the staff and how they say, ‘we want them to exceed their expectations,’” he said. “It’s really contagious and every time we meet with parents, they’re very appreciative.”

To date, 126 students are in all the programs held within the DREAM Academy.

“The goal is for them to come and get their solid foundations so they can go back to their home school,” Baker said.

Student attendance has gone from 70 percent this time last year to 93.7 percent now.

“That’s not just because we have a new population of students, it’s because we have a staff,” Butler said. “If you look right there, at the vision and it talks about dreams into realities, that is a huge reason why our attendance has spiked so high.”

Butler said because they’re in middle of the DREAM Academy’s first year, it’s difficult to gauge how well students are transitioning when sent back to their home school.

“Hopefully, in a year we get to tell you what our success rate was at the end of this year and we look forward to that opportunity,” he said.

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