The Enrichment Center
Epworth Village, Inc. works cooperatively with York Public Schools to provide the community of York, Nebraska with an alternative school for those high school youth who do not fit within a traditional school format to provide an opportunity for them to complete their high school diploma.
The center began due to the vision of Superintendent of York Public Schools, Terry Kenealy and Director of Epworth Village, Inc. Tom McBride. The center operates as a part of York Public Schools. Ty Bell, the head teacher at the school, is employed by Epworth Village, Inc. Judy Kenealy serves as the centerís principal.
Students may find the Enrichment Center Program more appealing because the regular high school setting isn't for them. This could be for many reasons such as learning styles, bullies, drug pressures, family issues and illnesses. "But at this school it's different. At this school it's like the phrase, 'The ball's in your court'. Here it actually is. Here you are the only person on the court," said Jacob, a student that has utilized the program.
"There's more responsibility. It's 'in your face,' but in a good way," Josh, another Enrichment Center student said.
The white building on 216 West 16th Street is more than a building to the approximately 40 to 50 students inside. The building can mean the line between dropping out of school and graduation. The building may mean a place where they feel accepted, where they don't feel the pressures of high school life. The building is a place where they can finally learn outside the "cookie-cutter" curriculum at traditional schools.
"It's alternative education," said Judy Kenealy. "Sometimes it's looked at as a place for 'those kids.' But what if your children or grandchildren were thought of as 'those kids?'"
The Enrichment Center is not Special Ed. In fact, many of the students perform at high achievement levels in their academic work. "In the interview process, a big thing potential students bring up is they fell behind in the regular system and could never catch up so they gave up," Ty Bell said.
Students who enroll in the York Public Schools Enrichment Center must take this decision seriously. Teachers and faculty refer some of the students to the program. Other students make the choice to attend the center on their own. Many contracts are signed before attending, requiring high expectations of ethical behavior and attendance. "The program is a privilege not an entitlement," Judy Kenealy said. "They must continue to meet the requirements."
The reasons they make the transition are as varied as the students themselves. "I was not going to school. I did not want to go through regular high school. It wasn't working. Then I heard about the center," Lindsay said.
"I was going to another school and having a hard time keeping up with the extra requirements," Thomas said. "Then I came here and I'm able to keep up. I'm doing better than I ever have." "I was about ready to drop out of school," Trent added. "But, I worked on my own to get here."
Comfort does not come without high standards, however. Inside the Enrichment Center, students sit busily working at computers. Many are working on what Ty Bell describes as a "Novanet" system. Students work the curriculum at their own pace while Bell and other educators assist them on various subjects. Some students attend the center all day; others work only on certain subjects challenging them in the standard curriculum.
From the get-go, Judy Kenealy said parents are involved with the students' progress. Four conferences are held throughout the year and parents are contacted via telephone often. "When parents are involved, this has a big impact on the kids." she said.
She also said students work towards "mastery" of their subjects. There's no "just getting by." Tests are repeated until students grasp the various concepts presented.
All around the school are messages signifying the value of "time management." One of the walls lists, "Words of Wisdom From the Graduates of 2004," the first graduating class from the center. Amongst the pieces of advice are, "Stay focused and work hard . . . Don't procrastinate . . . Be here because you want to be." "There's a lot of misperceptions about these kids, "Ty Bell said. "They are just kids for one reason or another who could not maximize their potential in a 'normal' setting . . . The biggest problem they have is in the regular school system something just did not click."
There is also work-based learning offered. Judy Kenealy said that nearly 30-area employers work with the center to provide career learning opportunities for students. And, many center attendees hold jobs outside of school.
For example, Thomas said his daily schedule begins at 6:30 a.m. He attends the center until around 3:30 p.m. and heads to work from 5 to 10 p.m. or midnight nearly everyday.
Some of the students hold management positions in their after school jobs as well. Many listed employers as positive role models in their lives. "My boss has really showed me a lot. He helped me realize many things, such as how to run my own store," said Jacob, who dreams of one-day owning a bike store in York. Currently, he is a shift manager at Pizza Hut learning a lot about running a small business.
Trent currently works at Blue Beacon and said his boss is a great influence. "I really look up to him, because before he came we had a really bad shift and he turned it around to one of the top 15. And, I'm training to be a supervisor right now," he said proudly. "I feel blessed by these students everyday," their principal said. "I feel like I grow by having the opportunity to help the students meet their dreams."
Many of these dreams will lead to college. For some students, they may be the first in their family planning to attend an institution of higher education.
Thomas wants to head to Central Community College in Hastings and study auto body repair. Trent also would like to study mechanics. Lindsay dreams of attending real estate school. And, Jeremiah would like to someday help kids with issues like he's dealt with, "I want to do something with adolescents and teens -- maybe a therapist. I want to help them with peer pressure issues and talk to them about how easy it is to get in with the wrong people and take whatever friend they can. I want to make a difference."