Atlantic Technical High School has been named to Newsweek’s 2015 “Beating the Odds” list, which recognizes the top 500 high schools in the United States serving low-income students. The Coconut Creek magnet school received a rank of 147, based on a combination of calculations involving college readiness, graduation rate and poverty level.
While the school is not unique in its class-size ratio, its overall enrollment of 594 students allows for a strong sense of bonding between faculty and students, said Rebecca Miller, former magnet coordinator for the school and its current career and technical education adviser. There are 34 academic teachers, and it is common for students to have a teacher multiple times.
“We are very close. We do a lot of discussing, intervention,” Miller said. “We know the students very well. You cannot hide here.”
The way the curriculum is structured also sets high expectations. Because students work toward certification in a chosen industry beginning junior year, academics are particularly rigorous the first two years, said Mari Lee, the current magnet coordinator. The school follows a block schedule, and the overall program causes students to “front load a lot of academics,” she said.
Vicky LaPorte, assistant director of the high school, said students even like to joke that after 10th grade they should receive a T-shirt that says, “I survived sophomore year at Atlantic Technical High School.”
The faculty and staff work closely with the students to make that survival happen. “We make sure they’re not going to fall through the cracks,” Miller said.
There are interventions in place if students’ grades start to drop.
“We do get kids that struggle,” LaPorte said. “They have to maintain a 2.5 GPA. If they drop below that, they get put on academic probation. Our teachers are good about contacting parents as soon as students start to drop academically.”
Those who drop below that threshold get two semesters to improve, and they start getting help. They meet weekly with counselors and are steered toward free tutoring and other enrichment programs. Parents are also always invited to be involved, right from the beginning.
“All our freshmen participate in the Freshman Invasion with the parents,” Lee said. “We send out weekly news flashes to the parents and use our web page. We have a staff meeting every other month and invite the parents out to these meetings.”
The school also administers free SAT practice tests and then holds score-review sessions that parents may attend to understand their child’s results.
Beginning in 11th grade, students take courses at Atlantic Technical College, the largest technical college in Florida, and work side by side with adult students in college-level classes. The adult educators for these courses also get to know the high school students well and serve as mentors and even chaperone high school events, Miller said.
“They have mothers everywhere,” she said, and related this closeness to the saying that it takes a village to raise a child. “It takes a campus.”
All of this works toward giving the students, 67 percent of whom are on free-or-reduced lunch, practical experience and real-life goals. When they graduate, they may be in a position to transfer as many as 39 credits to a state college and may have a technical certificate in hand.
“We know how hard we work and how hard our kids work,” Miller said. “Our kids are not only college ready, they are better able to help themselves pay for college.”
Miller said that letting students see the practical side of where education can take them helps motivate them.
“That’s what’s so life changing for our kids,” she said. “With better education, you go on to get better jobs. We are so proud of this, because that’s what we’re doing for our kids.”
To view the entire list of schools that are “Beating the Odds,” visit Newsweek.com/high- schools/beating- odds-2015.