[jump-link]Lingering disparity[/jump-link] Sadie Carfagno aims to publish her children’s book, “Noah’s Voyage: Helping kids understand Pectus Excavatum,” by the winter break. It was Carfagno’s project while she was attending Center I, Albemarle County Public Schools’ specialty high school model. County school officials hope other pupils get the same opportunity as Carfagno. The committee commissioned to find a spot for Center II already has eyed a property on Galaxie Farm Lane, just across from Monticello High School, to house 400 students. But as the division prepares to expand the model, laying out plans to ensure the student body at the specialty program mirrors the demographics of all county schools, as well as making sure the program is equitable, has been discussed deeply.
[mini-article-link id=”73374″]According to the division’s records, nearly 80% of the 42 students at Center I this academic year identify as white. Of the remainder, none of the students is Latino.[/mini-article-link]
“It’s an issue,” said Phil Giaramita, spokesman of county schools. “It’s a concern.” In the division as a whole, 13% of students are Latino, and in the past 14 years, the Latino student population has grown from 601 in 2005 to 1,844 in 2018, according to division records. In the previous academic year, ⅓ of the 21 students who took part in the pilot program were nonwhite students, according to the division. The division is reimagining strategies to bring more children to Center I, including diversifying all of its academies, Giaramita said. “Now it’s the time when we’re talking about another center that’s going to have 400 kids,” he said. “Now is the time to get up to speed on all these strategies.” The administration previously relied on guidance counselors to tell students about the specialty program, he said. The division will continue to use counselors’ help, he said, but the plan is to also send direct messages to all families about the program. The early stage of the centers is a critical time to develop strategies to diversify the student population there, as disparities linger at other established programs. At the division’s 8-year-old Math, Engineering & Science Academy, for example, 1% of Black students took part in the program, according to an equity report released this year. Latino students accounted for 4% in the same program, the report also stated.
“One of the things we have to understand better is why is it that Latino students and Black students or mixed-race students are not applying to these academies,” Giaramita said. “We need to have a better understanding of why that’s the case and how do you address that.” Albemarle High School houses the largest population of Black students, but it has a lower percentage of them taking part in its academy than at Western Albemarle High school, which has the smallest population of Black students in the county, an equity report revealed. Providing transportation is not the major factor to address equity concerns in the career academies, the report noted. “The division must consider recruitment and selection processes to achieve greater equity,” according to the report. [mini-article-link id=”73371″]Giaramita said[/mini-article-link] to qualify for a program like MESA, students must take certain math courses in the seventh and eighth grade that position them to succeed in the academy. “That means the division [needs] to start talking to kids not when they’re in high school,” he said. “We need to talk to them in the sixth and seventh grade to say, ‘If you’re interested in engineering, or math or science, you need to be taking these high-level courses in middle school.”
[jump-link]A different way of learning[/jump-link]
Carfagno, a graduate of Western Albemarle High School, said she did all the writing for her children’s book at Center I. “Students at Center I went about learning in a different way,” she said. “It’s more of a professional environment, where you have meetings and projects that you have to do in groups or independently.” Located at 1180 Seminole Trail, in the former Comdial building, the rooms at Center I are different from a traditional high school. Instead of desks, the facility boasts a number of studios, including a video and audio production room and an art and a multipurpose room. Students work on capstone projects and can enroll in English and government dual credit courses. Projects range from computer programming, engineering and animation, to photography, visual art, video and music. Last year, Carfagno was among 21 students who took part in the pilot program. There, she received help from community members and her supervisor to complete her book. “[I’ll get copies] of it to the University of Virginia pediatric surgeon [who] inspired me to write about pectus excavatum [a chest wall deformity] for the UVa’s Children’s Hospital,” Carfagno said. Now a freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University, Carfagno said she doesn’t think she would’ve been able to finish her novel if she was attending a traditional high school full time. “I think it would have been much harder,” said 18-year-old Carfagno.
[mini-article-link id=”73376″]Center I was developed to elevate capacity issues at Albemarle and Western Albemarle high schools. The county opted to have Center I instead of building a new high school because it’s cheaper, according to school officials.[/mini-article-link]
Part of having Center I is being smart with taxpayer’s money, said high school center planner Jeff Prillaman. Prillaman added that the way learning is designed at the center gives students the opportunity to take something they’re excited about and do it at a higher level. “Let’s say that you’re into music. Right now, one of your eight classes you take around music. This year, you can go to the center where you can devote time every other school day to your passion.” Some students know what they’d like to pursue after high school, and the division’s job is to cultivate those children’s passions while they’re still maintaining graduation requirements, Prillaman said. “It’s [kind of] like a checklist,” he said. “It’s not a multiple-choice test. This is more, I can do this. Check. And whatever the standards are for that class. Can you do it or not? You have to demonstrate it through your work and portfolio.” Those needing transportation ride a school bus from their traditional high school, or base school, Prillaman said, to Center I. Students opting for Center I alternate days between the center and their traditional high school. Those on free or reduced-price lunch are provided lunch at Center I. “It’s whatever you would qualify for at the base school carries over to where you locate to,” Prillaman said. Center I admitted 42 seniors this year. Next year, it will expand to sophomores and juniors, which is projected to increase enrollment to more than 250. Of the 250, there’ll be 25 to 125 at the facility every day. Programs tailored to sophomores and juniors via Center I’s Information and Communications Technology Academy include cybersecurity, game design and media communications. “The center is just a piece of a bigger puzzle,” Prillaman said. “Every school will have its own career pathway available to them. We might have entrepreneurship at Western Albemarle High.”
[jump-link]How different is Center I from CATEC?[/jump-link]
Students were not awarded an industry certificate last year at Center I. Prillaman said Center I is different from the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center in that CATEC has industry connections — for instance, CATEC has an internship program for automotive students. “Kids who want to go to CATEC already go there,” he said. “There are things that CATEC does not offer. This goes back to the 16 career cluster. You want to be a teacher or social worker? CATEC does not offer anything like that.” Additionally, he said CATEC doesn’t have the space set up to offer programs offered at Center I. “We want kids to graduate [and] be college-ready and career-ready,” he said.
[jump-link]Diversifying Center I’s population[/jump-link]
Michael Craddock, director of Center I, said diversifying Center I is critical. Enrollment records for fall 2018 indicated that 65% of the county’s student population was white, 11% Black, 13% Latino, 6% identified as two or more races and 5% Asian. Craddock said the current recruiting plan includes visiting every freshman seminar class, so all ninth graders can hear the message directly from him and won’t have to rely on the counselors. As he visits these classes, he passed out his contact information once students express interest in the Center.
[mini-article-link id=”73378″]Related article: The population of Latino students tripled in Albemarle schools in the last 14 years. This is what they say the need.[/mini-article-link]
“I’ll connect with parents and students if they want to come in for a tour,” he said. Craddock’s second strategy is to go out in the community to do some evening open houses and ensure there’s onsite translation available so that everyone feels welcome, he said. “They have tech set up, and there’s someone translating to them as they’re listening to me and they can hear it in real time,” he said of his strategy to attract Latino students. Other strategies include providing four or five out-of-the-school options for more local community presentations, emailing all parents and sending a video that showcases the types of opportunities offered at Center I. “My hope is that everyone is aware and can have enough information to make a decision whether it’s for them or not,” Craddock said. Giaramita said these programs have been opt-in, meaning the division doesn’t recruit for them. “We simply say the application is now open,” he said. The challenge with Center I is there’s not enough information in the community to inform parents, Giaramita said. “This year, and in the future at Center I, they offer classes that you can get both college and high school credit for,” he said, adding that the plan is to better promote what’s offered at Center I to attract more students.
[jump-link]But what’s the barrier for Latino students?[/jump-link]
Josue Sarmiento, a Honduran immigrant attending AHS, said Center I hasn’t been advertised at all in the school. A language barrier is not preventing Latino students from attending Center I because the programs offered there don’t require a high level of understanding of the English language, he said. “No one talks about it,” Sarmiento said. Students at Center I were recommended by school staff individually, he added. “It has not been advertised to everyone,” he said. “I think that’s why.”
[mini-article-link id:”73379″]These students may have heard of Center I from their classes — specifically selective courses — which could include a digital imaging or arts class, Sarmiento said.[/mini-article-link]
Chances are students taking these courses might be recommended by their teachers to enroll at Center I based on their interests, he said. Sarmiento, 18, has served as a leader on the school’s Latinx Club for two years. He said other local organizations have attended club meetings to educate the Latino community about their programs. He would have appreciated the same efforts from Center I representatives, he said. “If they want to be inclusive, they have to advertise it to the Latino community or any other community that’s needed,” he said, adding that he’s assuming there are many students who might be interested in Center I. Giaramita said the division should’ve attended a Latinx Club meeting. Craddock said he’s scheduled to give a presentation to the Latinx Club on Dec. 4, and he also will give a presentation to the Monticello High School Latino community. But for Haisell Franco — who immigrated from El Salvador to the U.S. five years ago — a language barrier could be one of the main reasons some Latino students may opt out of Center I, she said. “Sometimes, as Latinos, we don’t really get involved in those kinds of stuff because we’re scared to be around somebody else [who] speaks English correctly,” Franco said. “And we’re going to say something wrong.” Franco acknowledges that she has an accent and thinks it’s cool. “But there are people who are scared to talk,” she said. Jeffry Sarmiento, an 11th-grader at AHS, doesn’t think a language barrier is preventing Latino students from attending Center I. Instead, he recommends the administration to have a Spanish speaker to assist those whose first language is not English. Giaramita said the division ought to look into Jeffry Sarmiento’s recommendation.
[jump-link]The climate at Center I[/jump-link]
Every week, Carfagno spent one day at her traditional high school, and the next at Center I. She said having a full day and the freedom with her time allowed her to be efficient. “It’s so much better at Center I,” said Carfagno, an aspiring medical illustrator. “I feel like I got to meet and understand people so much more and understand who they are and connect with them and be able to do [a] project with them.” Carfagno’s tasks on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays included attending classes at Western Albemarle, her traditional high school. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she attended Center I the whole day, usually from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. There’s no bell schedule at Center I. “The kid will talk to the mentor, and he [or] she will help us figure out how to manage our time effectively,” she said. “You can decide when to spend a good hour on one project, or when it’s more important to spend time on another project that day for a couple of minutes and the mentor helps how to accomplish those things and earn those credits.” If Carfagno didn’t feel inspired to write on a given day, she would look at suggestions from her mentor and edit her book. She would also brainstorm on how to make visual components to her novel to make it more interesting. Carfagno said each student is able to use his or her strength to teach each other. Her peers created a musical performance for their midterm, in which some used wood to make instruments and a stage, among other items. “Instead of sitting at a desk at a regular school and just listen to a teacher, we were all having discussions and learning together and learning from each other and discovering together,” Carfagno said.
[jump-link]Plans for Center II[/jump-link]
The School Board at a recent meeting passed a resolution to ask the Board of Supervisors to transfer land across from Monticello High School to the division to construct Center II. The estimated cost for the nearly 40,000-square-foot facility is $27 million, and it could open its doors by 2022. Center II’s programs still are under development. The division said it has yet to determine whether it will open Center III, which would house 200 pupils, by 2024. Carfagno said Center I taught her how to apply the materials she was learning to real life, adding she has improved her communication skills in reaching out to people in the community while writing her novel. Plus, her project at Center I helped her get a scholarship, she said. “[People] think that when kids are given more freedom [they’ll] goof around and not get anything done,” Carfagno said. “That’s the opposite because students get to learn about things that they’re passionate about.”