Tumultuous city teens rise to the head of the class.
“One thing about the teachers here is that they will never give up on you,” says Klarice Reed.
The 11th-grader begins each day at Shallcross Academy attending Townhouse, a social gathering in which students from different grades come together to discuss their issues and brainstorm on how to make the day successful.
Like most of her schoolmates, Reed, 18, was sent to Shallcross because she was acting out at her previous school, Woodrow Wilson. By the time the tumultuous teen hit the 10th grade, she was infamous for disrespecting her teachers, fighting and throwing paper balls in class. Reed says her friends constantly urged her to misbehave. And she gladly obliged.
“I felt as though I was the class clown,” she says. “The class used to laugh with me, but I soon realized that they were just laughing at me.”
When it became clear that Reed couldn’t make it in a traditional school setting, she was removed from Wilson and enrolled at Shallcross Academy, one of the city’s four Camelot schools. For more than 30 years, the Camelot Schools of Philadelphia have built a reputation making positive contributions to the lives of students who would otherwise fall through the cracks. Camelot’s outcome-oriented residential treatment centers, therapeutic day schools and alternative-education programs seek to help children dealing with autism and mental-health and behavioral problems. The Camelot schools also work with kids who are in danger of dropping out of school, and those like Reed, who can’t or won’t achieve academically because of disciplinary or learning challenges.
Reed says it was hard adjusting to the structure and discipline affiliated with Camelot schools, but it was just what the rowdy teen needed.
“When I first started here at Shallcross I felt that it wasn’t the place for me … walking in protocols and having our shirts tucked in at all times,” she says. “But as time went by, I realized that I was around people who really cared. Now that I am here I try to encourage my friends outside of school not to follow my past footsteps. I realize that they weren’t getting me anywhere.”
Shallcross Academy has 300 students from kindergarden through 12th grade. When students first arrive at the school, the staff creates Personalized Learning Plans (PLP), which include academic, attendance and behavioral goals. Students are assigned levels: Concern, Neutral, Bulldog, Pledge Law, Positive or Executive. New students are ranked at Concern, and in order to move up a level they must carry out Shallcross’ code of conduct: have excellent attendance, complete all assignments, actively participate in class and show the ability to take direction from their teachers and peers. The next level, Neutral, is reached by being able to demonstrate the ability to adjust to the normative culture by becoming more vocal in redirecting the negative behavior of their peers.
“Some of our students thrive in a structured environment after having been in a dysfunctional environment,” says Bob Lysek, assistant vice president of Education Services at Shallcross. “We provide the support and consistency the students crave, therefore making it easy for the student to excel.”
As students meet these goals, they are recommended for restoration back to their neighborhood schools. “Students are only restored if the school district agrees that goals in the PLP have been met,” Lysek says. “A student must display positive, pro-social behaviors to move up, whereas, the student will have to display negative, anti-social behaviors to move down.”
The staff of Shallcross meets weekly to discuss the progress of each student and to decide whether a student is ready to move up a level. A student’s status is displayed by wearing either a black, gray or tan shirt. “I’m an Executive,” Reed says proudly. “That’s the highest you can reach.”
On any given day, students at Shallcross can be seen in their respective classrooms of 15 to 20 listening attentively to their teachers, helping each other out and even smiling and greeting visitors. It’s hard to believe these kids had any problems to begin with.
But many of them did.
“Obviously what makes Shallcross different from other schools is that it’s a disciplinary school,” says Phill Zayas, 18.
Zayas was arrested for marijuana possession in school. “That was dumb,” he says, recalling the day security guards searched and busted him with weed, “but it was my decision. Back then it was a normal thing and everyone did it.” He was sent to Shallcross in September of last year.
Since arriving at Shallcross, Phill has earned the status of Bulldog and is working his way up to Executive status. “Being here at Shallcross has been good for me because it’s very structured.”
Hillary Moreno and Jay Cobb, former students of Community Education Partners school, also arrived at Shallcross last September. Both students admit that they didn’t do much in their former school mostly because it wasn’t as engaging as it is at Shallcross.
“The atmosphere there was very different, it felt as if the teachers were just showing up and didn’t really care about us,” says 17-year-old Moreno, who was sent to the academy because of anger issues, acting out and occasional fighting. “Here, I actually feel like I’m being taught something ... and when I’m angry or upset my teachers will take me out of class and we talk about it. That has helped.”
“I feel welcomed here,” adds Cobb, 18, who was once fond of hanging out on street corners with his friends. “At the time, being out on the streets was fun,” he says. “We would do whatever we wanted.”