New Manatee County alternative school throws out a lifeline to at-risk students

January 22, 2013 

With a void in Manatee County's educational opportunities for a small group of students, the Manatee YMCA stepped up to a rather challenging task this school year.

Youth in danger of slipping through society's cracks and falling into a difficult life needed a lifeline -- an alternative school where they could learn not only academic subjects but vital social skills as well.

In partnership with the United Community Center, the YMCA put together a committee to design opportunities for at-risk students. The August opening of Manatee Y Technological High School inside the 13th Av Dream Center came only a month after the Manatee County school board approved a contract with the Y, a remarkable rush to rescue youth.

Dean of Admissions Rob LeVine described the students and school situation succinctly to Herald education reporter Katy Bergen: "This isn't at-risk. This is high-risk. ... But there is a spirit in this group, because they are fighting to be here."

Fighting indeed. Some students endure two or three bus rides to attend this special school, a determination that arises out of personal desire and drive.

The student body of 175 youth, even up to age 20, are here because of various social and academic reasons. Research shows students with social risk factors were classified as underprivileged, impoverished, disenfranchised and language impaired, among others. Academic risk factors include struggling in traditional classrooms, poor attendance, excessive tardiness, class failure and apathy.

Teens silently dropped out of school or failed to earn a diploma. Some have attended the district's alternative school but still could not find success.

With the disppearance of other options, most recently with the closure of the Richard Milburn Academy, Manatee Y Technological High School is a godsend. The school complements the Y's mission, focusing on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. With daily character- and career-building classes, students learn how to better cope in society.

The school embraces one of the nation's fastest growing trends in online education, called the "blended" model. While most instruction is online, a teacher-coach monitors each classroom to answer questions, help direct projects and keep students focused. Instructors also discuss such life skills as writing resumes and cover letters, and train students in mock job interviews so they are prepared to pursue their career path and build a better future.

Principal Lamar Billups told Bergen the blended-instruction model is working, a strong indication that Technological High will serve as that vital lifeline for the at-risk youth who reach out to grab what could be a last chance at a better life.

Kudos to the Manatee YMCA for creating Manatee Y Technological High School and to the 13th Av Dream Center for hosting this altruistic endeavor.

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