Pathways in Education opened its alternative school setting in Frayser in 2014 and has quickly grown to serve hundreds of students needing another route to education.
Students in the Achievement School District in need of an alternative education setting have it in Frayser with Pathways in Education.
Yes, Pathways is an alternative school setting. And while that means the school is home to students with disciplinary problems it’s also a place where students from the Achievement School District can get extra attention.
“On a day-to-day basis when I interact with students I can’t tell you who came here because they were expelled or have another problem,” said Anne Thomas, Director of Instruction for Pathways in Education Tennessee. “Discipline is a tiny part of what we do on a daily basis. Kids embrace this. When Pathways gave me the opportunity to be director I felt like we had an awful lot of kids who need this. … Chronic absentee rates are so high so we think by giving another option we can reach more kids.”
Students who attend Pathways have a different classroom experience, which is the point. Students are assigned necessary classes for graduation but there are options.
For example, if a student is strong in math he or she might take the subject on an independent study and attend class only two or three times a week while having access to math tutors. Students who struggle in math might participate in a teacher-run classroom for the subject.
“Every student’s schedule looks different,” Thomas said. “I have some students who are four days a week for most of the day and some who are two days a week for half a day. We have online classes, direct teacher-run classrooms and an independent study version.”
Thomas recently worked for the Achievement School District. While there, she said the staff had conversations around student discipline. For every student that was expelled from the ASD there was a need to place them in a Shelby County alternative school program.
The ASD’s mission is to get its schools in the top 25 percent in five years, and the thought was in order to achieve that it was important to not relinquish control of the academics of any of its students. The district decided as a group to look for an alternative provider, which brought it to Pathways in Education.
The nonprofit organization partners with public schools and other organizations to provide dropout recovery and prevention programs. Pathways Management Group manages Pathways in Education. There are more than 30 schools in California, Louisiana, Illinois and Tennessee.
The initial intent was to provide alternative education in a setting where the district’s children could get sound instruction in a safe environment that supports students changing their behavior. Pathways in Education opened in Frayser at 3156 N. Thomas St. in the Northgate Shopping Center in January 2014 with five students; it has grown to an enrollment of 230 with a capacity of 300 students in Frayser.
Frayser was chosen for Pathways because the schools in the community at the time were virtually all ranked near the bottom. With a number of priority schools in and around Frayser, the location works well to serve students ninth through 12th grades.
Students who come to Pathways do so for a number of reasons. Some students are credit deficient, meaning they’re over age and behind on credits. Other students haven’t performed well in a traditional setting and are recommended by a school, family member, clergy member or partner organization.
Pathways also is an educational home for teen parents who need a more flexible schedule. Others have been expelled or are placed by ASD. Finally, some kids just don’t perform well in a traditional setting and Pathways provides that alternative.
“It actually works well for all those groups of kids,” Thomas said. “Our biggest challenge is getting kids to see the connection between work they put in every day and long-term goals, but that’s the purpose. It’s the tool to achieve what you want in life. It gives kids different experiences.”
In addition to Frayser, Pathways also has a school in Whitehaven. There are 420 students between the two but Thomas said she’s hopeful there will be 600 in the next academic year.
Any student who is zoned to or ended the last school year attending a priority school in Shelby County is eligible to attend Pathways. Homeless students also are eligible to attend.
Pathways does have access to Shelby County Schools’ list of dropouts and the organization works to market to those students.
There is an opportunity to expand with Shelby County Schools. Right now Pathways can’t accept SCS students, but the organization did file an application in April that could make changes. The county school board is set to vote on it in the coming weeks, Thomas said.
If the application is accepted Pathways will open a third site in Hickory Hill in fall 2017. That would allow students from any school in Shelby County, not just priority schools, to attend.