Chapter 4: celebration
October 21, 2019
As students finish up programs at their own pace, the SOC has two celebrations a year for graduating students rather than a traditional ceremony.
“Our students are allowed to go through graduation with their home campus if they want to, but since they’re finishing up at all different times of the year, a lot of students are either already somewhere else, they may have moved, or they may already be working, so being able to get to their graduation is not always easy for us,” Kirk said. “Plus, some students really bond with our staff here and they feel that this is their campus so we have what we call celebrations.”
With a small student body and a teacher to student ratio of roughly 1:8, graduation at the SOC is a very personal celebration.
“Students can wear their gowns and we have the traditional march,” Kirk said. “The special part about our graduations, our celebrations, is that because we are so small, our teachers really get to know our students, so each student is called up to the podium and a teacher comes up and speaks on that student’s behalf. Teachers talk a little bit about what they were like as a student, what their plans are, and what their challenges were.”
Because we are so small, our teachers really get to know our students, so each student is called up to the podium and a teacher comes up and speaks on that student’s behalf.
— former SOC principal Sue Kirk
Unlike a normal campus, students at the SOC can stay until they’re 20 years old.
“You have to understand it’s pretty much 100 percent at risk students here,” Matthews said. “So as opposed to a normal campus, every kid here has something going against them. Whether it’s falling behind in academics, whether they’ve been hospitalized for a year and they have to catch up and get here, whether the girl is in pregnancy, having the different programs here has made it so that you see different levels of kids. We have a range of age: 14 years old to possibly 20 years old here. The dynamic of the different ages and what those kids bring in, allow us as teachers to delve into different levels of understanding of the students.”
According to Matthews, a lot of people in the district don’t understand what goes on, in regard to either the students or the teachers.
“They think that the kids come here and get a free ride is a big thing. That they’ve come in here, they’re here for a few years, and then they graduate out,” Matthews said. “They don’t realize that these kids are on a deadline, a three week deadline or a six week deadline to get a course done, which is very fast for kids. We have three different programs going on here that we have to adjust to, so we’re here from 8:00 in the morning until 4:30 in the afternoon. Not a lot of teachers are doing that. Some of us stay even later with kids than that.”
With this type of work, Matthews suggests that the unique structure at the SOC allows teachers like himself to connect in ways that aren’t possible at the high schools.
It’s tough on us sometimes, because we are so involved with the kids themselves, that we take their emotions with us. — SOC math teacher Mark Matthews
It’s tough on us sometimes, because we are so involved with the kids themselves, that we take their emotions with us.
— SOC math teacher Mark Matthews
“It’s tough on us sometimes, because we are so involved with the kids themselves, that we take their emotions with us,” Matthews said. “We try to leave it here at the door when we leave out but it doesn’t happen. We know, because of the size of the school, we have about a hundred kids here compared to 2400. We know everything that’s going on. The kids don’t realize that and they wonder how we know that. Well, we talk. We have the same kids and we’re in the same labs together.”
While students might be at the SOC for a multitude of reasons, Kirk believes that finding the right teachers is paramount to students’ success.
“We always try to make sure that the type of teachers we hire here are teachers that can form those close relationships,” Kirk said. “They can look at a person as more than just what they see on the surface. It’s not just about teaching math, it’s about teaching the students and knowing their needs and working with that student on those things.”