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Continuation School Helps Struggling Teens

Phoenix Continuation High School in Venice is taking a unique approach.

Continuation high schools are the last stop for kids who struggle in the public system. Phoenix Continuation High School in Venice is taking a unique approach.

“All of these kids here have not succeeded in a traditional high school,” longtime Phoenix teacher Liz Ryan said. “So we need to find a way to get them to succeed.”

Part of the strategy is a unique array of electives. From biology labs to graphic design, students choose from interactive courses. The goal is to get them to take ownership of their education.

“I wanted to come here because at this school you work independently, and at your own pace,” tenth grader Brittany Johnson said.

Most of the students who come to Phoenix are short on credits and have to scramble to graduate on time. The electives help keep the students engaged in school. 

One of the most popular electives pairs students with toddlers or disabled children for a semester, to teach the responsibility of parenting. “Teens and Toddlers” proved so successful at reducing teen pregnancy rates in England that it’s now a mandatory part of the curriculum there. But Phoenix is the only school in Los Angeles to offer it.

“We have gone out of our way to find these people, and bring them in and develop these programs,” resource teacher Kate Mitchell said. “I’m really proud of what we've brought here.”

And with just eighty students on campus, kids get much more personal attention than they’re used to. 

“They’re not here because they’re not smart and they can’t pass the courses,” principal Nancy Huerta explained. “They here because they need a different environment.

Not every Phoenix student ends up graduating. But the teachers say attending the school gives them a much better shot.

“Watching them walk that graduation stage…,” Mitchell said. “It’s the most awesome feeling in the world.”

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