The NET Charter High School in Central City is a small school filling a big need.
Just about all of the school’s 150 students have several risk factors, said Principal Elizabeth Ostberg, such as being involved in the judicial system, having children or being pregnant, having been expelled from school — usually for either drugs or a violent offense, and mental health issues. Most of the students have gone to two or more high schools prior to The NET,
In other words, The Net is the last best hope many of these kids have. And the consequences can be stark.
Research shows that young people who are out of school and adults who have not graduated from high school are significantly more likely to be involved in criminal activity, teen parents, unemployed or underemployed and on public assistance.
On the flip side, “having a diploma is statistically tied to a lot of really important, positive outcomes,” Ostberg says. High school graduates are healthier, their children do better in school and they’re less likely to be involved in criminal activity or on welfare.
“So the more students that we can successfully graduate that diploma, it’s going to start changing the city as a whole,” says Ostberg.
Serving students ages 14 – 21, The NET operates year-round, from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and accommodates students who enter with varying levels of credit. “They cycle in and out,” Ostberg says of the schools students. “They can start whenever they need to, and we have three graduations a year. So as soon as they finish all of their credits, they pass their exams; they can graduate. So everybody’s kind of on a rolling situation. Everybody has their own plan for when they’re going to graduate, what they’re going to take and how they’re going to manage their academic life.”
Students follow a hands-on curriculum of standards-based instruction and project-based learning that is tailored to their individual needs.
“We have three different types of classrooms,” says Ostberg. “We have traditional looking classes which is where we teach our maths and sciences. In there we generally have about ten to fifteen students and two teachers.”
The NET also utilizes online learning in the school’s computer lab as well so every student can be on their own program and work at their own pace, Ostberg adds.
“And all of the humanities are taught through a sort of seminar class, so those can be really small like five to eight students — lots of discussions, lots of projects and look a little more like a college seminar than a regular high school,” says Ostberg.
But the pride of the school may be its career internship program.
The fact of the matter is that “a lot of our students don’t like school. They’re sick of school,” Ostberg points out. The NET’s internship program offers learning experiences outside the school grounds.
“What we’re trying to do is expand their educational options,” says Ostberg. “So we place them based on their interests with a professional in whatever field they’re interested in.” Students meet with their mentor generally twice a week, three to four hours a day, for a semester.
“The idea is that the professional is able to teach the student about the profession, about their craft,” Ostberg says. “The student is able to do something meaningful. They’ve got a meaningful assignment in the organization or the business, so that they’re providing a service. And then they build this really tight relationship with the professional mentor, and that’s somebody who can write them references, who can give them advice, who can connect them.”
“Also, a lot of our students have very fuzzy ideas about what they’re going to do next — either they’re going be a rapper or they’re going to be a lawyer and there’s sort of nothing in between,” adds Ostberg. “So a lot of kids say, ‘well I want to be a doctor,’ because that’s an obvious profession but they generally are not coming here with a GPA or test scores that are going get them into directly into a four year college to get into a medical school.”
“Now that doesn’t mean they can never be a doctor, but it’s going be a different path, and there are all of these medical professions that don’t require the same type of education that a doctor requires, which may actually be more interesting to the student. It might be a better fit for them. So how do we expose them to that? Get them working at a clinic so they can see what a nurse does, what a medical biller does, what radio pathologist does — all of these things that they may not think about. So it’s a lot about exposure; also it’s an opportunity for kids to step up in a real life context.”
Meeting with the students to identify their interests and network in the community to find adults in the professional world who are interested in mentoring a student require a lot of time and effort. In order to help support the program, The NET is hosting its 3rd Annual Nothing But NET fundraiser this Friday through Sunday. Nothing But NET is The NET’s signature fundraising event and includes an evening soiree Friday at the Jazz Market on O.C. Haley, three-on-three adult basketball (all skill levels are welcome) Saturday at Langston Hughes Academy, a slam dunk contest, a three-point contest and a resource fair. Tickets available here.