By Denise Dick
A teacher believes the addition of Career Academy students to Choffin Career and Technical Center is causing disruption for other students, but the school’s director says the issue has been resolved.
Earlier this month, a teacher in an industrial program, who has 23 years of experience in the school district, wrote a letter to school leadership about his concerns.
“I have some wonderful Career Academy students that truly love what they are doing,” the letter says. “Due to some hard cases, my actual 11th graders are disgusted with each passing day and I fear that I may lose them.”
Career Academy students are those who are repeating ninth grade. This year, the school district placed those 118 students at Choffin, enrolling them in the career and technical classes as well as offering credit recovery and core curriculum courses.
The teacher’s letter says it was a mistake not to have a criteria for those students in place “to protect the existing students and staff.”
“To allow every student, no matter what, is turning out to be disastrous, and fast,” it says. “Alright, we gave them all the opportunity, some have demonstrated that they could care less and do everything in their power to be disrespectful and belligerent. Those are the ones that must be removed for good before it’s too late. They are breaking down the system.”
One student was bullied by Academy students and missed school.
School Director Joe Meranto acknowledged that there’s been a slight uptick in discipline issues this school year when academy students joined the school, but it hasn’t been dramatic and the issues have been addressed.
The student whom the teacher said was being bullied has returned to school and those responsible have been disciplined, Meranto said.
“It’s a change. It’s something new. Whenever you have something new, you have to work out the kinks,” he said.
The teacher, who requested his name not be used in the interest of the program and his students, said Friday: “Kids and their parents need to know that it’s a safe haven. ... If that happens, we do what we need to do. Everything was handled, and I’m happy for that because I’m the one down in the trenches with the kids.”
He also said the offending kids have been removed from the program. The Choffin program, he added, is especially needed for these Youngstown students now, in light of a rebound in area manufacturing and the shale boom.
Meranto believes the academy students haven’t succeeded in school before, not because they’re bad students, but because they didn’t have a focus. Career and technical education provides that focus, he said.
Rather than asking why they need to learn something, students understand why because the courses are laid out, aimed at completion of a particular field, Meranto said.
The program also includes a social-emotional piece to help academy students.
“We’re seeing a lot of success,” Meranto said. “I’m not saying it’s perfect, but we can make a difference with these kids. I believe that.”