Foxfire Center for Student Success – In East Central Ohio, Zanesville is representative of the many designated economically transitional and at-risk towns in the Appalachian Region. Unemployment remains above state and national rates, 8.1 percent, and the average annual household income is $27,900.
Foxfire alternative school was started in 2000 by the assistant principal and a group of teachers at Maysville High School in Maysville School District. The program was designed for those students at Maysville that were struggling to fit into the traditional school environment. “These kids weren’t coming to school because they had to work to support their families, but they’re still good students,” said Maysville superintendent Monte Bainter. “We had all kinds of programs established for kids but certain students never fit into them.”
Starting as an offshoot of Maysville High School, students were offered evening classes instead of suspension or after school programs. That first year, 12 students participated. This year’s enrollment is at 207 students aged 16-22. Students apply, or are referred, to Foxfire from the surrounding Zanesville area. The targeted students include working teenagers, dropouts, would-be dropouts, pregnant teens and teen parents (2007-2008 student population included 30 teen pregnancies and 92 with children), and youth on probation or coming from the juvenile justice system. Students come to class in shifts, with the option of choosing from three four-hour slots in the day. They are required to either work or participate in community service for 15 hours per week.
The school’s mission stems from a Core Values system: Caring, Honesty, Teamwork, Discipline, Character, Work Ethic, Accountability, Commitment, Respect and Loyalty. “Having an environment where we teach and reciprocate respect, accountability and caring with the students has had the biggest impact,” said teacher and Director of Student Services, Austin Lewellen.
In part of creating a supportive and encouraging environment, the curriculum is a Project Based Learning program. The students enter the program at different levels of learning and different credit needs for high school completion. With project based learning, each student works at her own pace. Each project is set to fulfill state standards based on the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT), so after a student has completed it she receives a grade and earns the appropriate number of credits.
Cornelius Murphy, 19, a former Foxfire student, said the project based learning is beneficial to kids’ learning process. “For English I took the Tupac Shakur project class. Having class projects on subjects you’re familiar with makes the kids interested in doing the research, following through, and writing on the topic. With the hands-on interactive learning projects, a lot of us need that kind of teaching to learn.” Murphy enrolled himself at the school when he was 17, and at a 9th grade reading and math level. He feels the flexible school schedule was vital to his graduation. “Foxfire works because it’s for kids who don’t do well in a regular environment, for whatever reason. It gives students a chance to work, pay bills, pay for childcare, and learn a trade to help after graduation.”
Since graduating last year, Murphy has been working as a State Nursing Assistant and plans to attend a community college for a degree in Radiology. He received his SNA certificate with help from Foxfire career counselors and teachers. “If I hadn’t gone to Foxfire, I’d still be at Zanesville High trying to get my diploma,” said Murphy. “I would never drop out. But, it would take me a lot longer to finish all the credits and graduate.”
The school has a comprehensive Career-Based Initiative in which the students are introduced to varied fields of work and college opportunities. Each student is required to make three college visits with a staff member. Also, each student must choose a field of interest, which may include the military, and is required to do a job shadowing in that field for a minimum of sixty hours during the semester.
In an area with few choices or jobs, many youth choose to go into construction because of its higher pay, or join the military. To help encourage young people into the workforce and post-secondary training, Foxfire’s Youth Build Grant enrolls at-risk/dropout youth at a local technical school to receive training in order to build government housing within the county. The students are paid minimum wage during their training and in the end can earn up to $17 per hour.
Principal Todd Whiteman has worked diligently to make an environment where students can accelerate and feel like they belong to something. “The biggest challenge is to take these kids and get them well so they can learn. A lot of them have poor health, they come from environments where violence, drugs, alcohol and sex are prominent,” said Whiteman. “Ninety-percent of the kids are referred from the juvenile delinquency courts. But our hands-on learning curriculum makes the academic skills relevant and interesting to them.”
Whiteman’s Core Value system is also implemented with the teachers. In just a few years, Foxfire’s retention rate rose from 40 percent to 100 percent. The staff meets every morning for thirty minutes to assess and collaborate on curriculum mapping. “There has been a noticeable rise in respect and support among the teachers,” Whiteman said. “Wellness is an important factor in our school. The teachers need to care about themselves and the students.”
Samantha Fleming enrolled at Foxfire when she was 16, pregnant, and with only 7 high school credits. At the time she was enrolled at a vocational school but never went because of bad morning sickness. In just one year she completed 15 additional credits, passed the Ohio Graduation Test, and graduated high school last May. “I would have dropped out if it wasn’t for Foxfire,” said Fleming. “The teachers treat us as equals and with encouragement. Teachers would send cards in the mail saying ‘Sam, you’re doing a great job.’ It was always a constructive and positive environment.”
A crucial benefit to students is the Care Team initiative implemented by Superintendent Bainter. The Care Team is a collaborative of representatives from schools, mental, physical and behavioral health, child protection, juvenile court, law enforcement and child development. Foxfire has a full-time social worker and nurse on staff, as well as a part-time drug and alcohol counselor. “The Care Team initiative flags kids at the elementary age,” said Bainter. “At the beginning of each school year every staff person picks a group of kids to build a connection with. Connecting with kids is positive for the kids and for the adults. If kids think you care about them, they’ll work hard to prove successful to you and to themselves.”
Samantha Fleming took advantage of, and was grateful for, the Care Team presence. “Every Friday we had the Parenting Class. We’d meet, pregnant or teen parents, and talk about pregnancy, labor, parenting, physical and emotional needs,” said Fleming. During the school year, Samantha worked part-time at her mother’s tanning salon. This fall she plans on studying Nursing or Cosmetology at nearby Zane State College.
One of the biggest challenges of many schools is meeting state requirements and assessments. But Foxfire’s system of teaching, learning and caring has helped overcome that challenge. In just two years the number of students that passed the state 10th grade reading proficiency exams rose from 36.4 percent to 75 percent. Each tested area for the OGT increased by 60 percent -242 percent. The school was recently deemed as Best Practice and model for alternative schools by the Ohio Department of Education. It also met all requirements for the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in the state’s annual report card. And the class of 2007 had a remarkable 97.3 percent graduation rate, outpacing the state average of 86.9 percent.