By Susan Tebben
In a mobile classroom next to Austintown Fitch High School, a group of teens is working quietly at computers, running through the day’s lessons.
Brittney, 16, keeps her eyes on a computer screen and follows along on a paper in front of her.
She had been in an online program that wasn’t the right fit for her before she came to the HOPE (Helping Others Pursue Excellence) program in Austintown.
“This makes it so I don’t have to go back to school and just fail,” Brittney said.
This is the second chance for Brittney and the other 60 students enrolled in the HOPE program, all who need extra help for various reasons.
“These aren’t just bad kids who are here because they’re trouble,” said Janet Polish, director of 21st Century Learning at Austintown schools. “We’re trying to keep these kids in school.”
The 60 kids enrolled in HOPE are referred by principals or counselors and stay in the mobile unit and get help from tutors and online programs.
It is funded through a $40,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Education and money from the general fund.
There is also a family liaison and caseworker, Heather Carbon, who is in the building to keep track of students’ cases and deal with any issues that could affect their learning.
“It’s so rewarding to help them, to nudge them and watch them grow into adults,” Carbon said.
All the students’ situations are individualized so that they can get the type of help they need, whether it just be stability or more hands-on approaches.
Brittney likes the program because she could choose when she wanted to go to school and there was structure which the online program didn’t have.
She now enjoys English and plans to go back to Fitch next year, on her way to Mahoning County Career and Technical Center.
The program, still being developed in its first year, is only meant to be a one-year program for students, so they can transition back into school or finish off a few credits where they may be deficient, Polish said.
“I have more concentration, and it helps me do better,” said Brian, 16, in the program as a result of an expulsion hearing.
He wants to go back to Fitch next year to play basketball.
One student graduated from the program last week, and five have already completed their courses for graduation for the year.
“It’s a group effort, and it’s so great to see them succeed,” Carbon said.