Innovation Diploma Plus
MANHATTAN NY 10024 Map
Innovation Diploma Plus
A small school devoted to second chances, Innovation Diploma Plus is designed to offer kids who have been unsuccessful in traditional high schools an alternate route to graduation.
Founded in 2009, Innovation serves students between the ages of 16 and 20 "who have had a failure in the past but are really committed to getting a high school diploma and are looking at college," said principal Casey Jones, a former math and technology teacher who began his career as an Accenture consultant. Most students who transfer to Innovation have spent two years at another high school but find themselves older than their peers, with too few credits, and in danger of dropping out, Jones said.
Seventeen-year-old Amanda was one of those students. At her old high school, Amanda said she was "that girl who was never in class," but she found a home at Innovation and in 2010 earned enough credits for her diploma. "This is my best time at school,"she said. "I'm here every day, early."
Innovation sits on the top floor of the Louis K. Brandeis campus on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Unadorned hallways yield to classrooms where the dress is casual (boys weren't asked to remove caps) and rules are often relaxed (a student was not scolded for eating at his desk). As its name implies, Innovation incorporates new technologies: Computerized white boards have mostly replaced chalk, online courses are more common than textbooks, and homework is often assigned via e-mail or Web links. Jones said one goal is to "expose students to some of the technology they might see in the workplace."
Students seemed attentive. In one English class, the hour began with a discussion of the statement, "In their hearts men will aim to do good." One unshaven young man disagreed. "Some men are just naturally evil," he volunteered. "If you take a tiger and raise him as a dove, he's still going to be a tiger."
Small classes and 54-minute periods let teachers devote personal attention to students who are often learning at different speeds. (The terms "junior" and "senior" don't apply here, given the students'varying ages and credits.)"We have a chance to actually work with them one-on-one," said math teacher Kelvin Smith. "Someone is there to push them along." The school's trimester calendar lets students earn up to 18 credits a year instead of the usual 10 or 12. As students graduate, new students are enrolled after an interview to determine if Innovation is a good fit.
Innovation has "the same problems that all schools have," principal Jones said, in particular talkative kids who interrupt lectures. The nonprofit Alianza Dominicana partners with Innovation to provide academic support, help students obtain internships and address attendance problems, often through in-home visits. The school uses the national Diploma Plus model for alternative education; it focus seems rooted in the old belief that kids learn best in small classes that offer personal attention from caring teachers. "We really do believe in the potential of students,"Jones said. "We want our students to walk out the doors believing that if they want to, and apply themselves, they can achieve anything."(Skip Card, October 2010)