Twilight Academy Helps Put Students Back on Track to Graduate

     Published on 1/7/16   Tagged under:    District News    Henninger High School    Nottingham High School    PSLA @ Fowler   

“I don’t care what college it is… I’m gonna go!” Henninger senior Ahshanique Brown declared.
As an alumna of the Twilight Academy program, the path to developing college aspirations has not been without its challenges.
As a freshman, she said, she skipped school frequently and got into fights. Then, she was placed in the Twilight program. Started in 2014 with 85 students, Henninger’s Twilight Academy now hosts more than 160 students. Each school day, students attend two classes, block scheduled from 3-6:30 pm.
“Twilight is meant to help kids get back on track,” Ahshanique explained. “I had three credits when I went into the program, and now I’ve gotten caught up. I didn’t have a chance to graduate, until Twilight. It was a reality check for me, about schoolwork, about friends and about what I needed to do. Now, I’m graduating ahead of my class in terms of credits. I feel blessed.”
Henninger Twilight Coordinator Jason Cecile said students with as few as two credits have gone on to earn 18 credits through the program. Repeat 9th graders with 0-2 credits are recommended to join, staying in the program until they are caught up with their cohort and then returning to day school.
Students say the smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction are huge assets in helping them learn, allowing them to tackle harder material.
“I focus more in Twilight,” junior Justice Merritt explained. “Regular school makes me feel dumb because I don’t learn well there. The teacher in Twilight can sit with me and help me if I’m struggling. In ninth grade, I was failing, not understanding classes and cutting. They put me in Twilight, and I hated it at first! Then I realized I wasn’t going to go anywhere the way I was. Once I focused, I loved Twilight and I didn’t want to leave.”
Another benefit is that students earn credits in less time than in day school—up to ten credits per year, versus 5.5-6 in day school.
“I love Twilight,” junior Renmari Matthews said. “You can earn more credits in less time and there are smaller classes, so you can focus better. There are a lot of doubters around who tell us we can’t do something. But I feel more confident in myself because of Twilight.”
Senior Nashiclay Reid said that adjusting to the high expectations teachers had of her in Twilight was a struggle at first. “When I was first in Twilight, I wanted to go back to day school,” she explained. “But now that I’m in day school, I want to go back to Twilight! If I could, I’d tell all these freshmen who are messing around that that’s not what they want to be doing. They’re going to be embarrassed one day. I know. I was going to give up before I got into Twilight. I used to be so mad! But now I’ve calmed down, because I’ve learned that we need this—we need this education.”
Mr. Cecile said the success of Henninger’s Twilight program is due in large part to the way it has become a part of the school. “Our program has been very successful because of our supportive staff,” he explained. “Principal DiFlorio has really made it a part of the school culture.”
At Fowler, the Twilight program has also become a part of the school culture—even in its first year as a joint program of PSLA and Fowler.
Coordinator Dan Killenbec said the team effort from a variety of teachers who are involved helps students feel supported. “We try to have as many teachers as possible who teach during the day help out at night,” he explained, noting that English, social studies, math and even electrical trades teachers are taking leadership roles in the Twilight program. “It’s teachers who truly care about the kids and want to help them succeed. We’ve had a lot of success because we’re focusing on finding the positive attributes in our students.”
For PSLA student Jasmin Gonzalez, as a freshman, she often skipped class to spend time with her boyfriend at the time. Halfway through the year, the school noticed that she was on track to complete the year failing her courses and enrolled her in Twilight Academy.
“I was sad at first because I wouldn’t be with my friends,” Jasmin explained. “It took me about a month to realize that’s not what school is about. It was hard at first, but I adapted. In Twilight, I was with students from other grades and I took harder classes. Before Twilight, I never went to class. But this year, I haven’t skipped at all. I like to go to class because I like to get good grades. Now, classes are easier for me because I understand what they’re talking about!”
Mr. Killenbec said students have been responsive to the program and attendance numbers have improved, in part because of the welcoming atmosphere they aim to provide.
“We’re trying to create a positive environment so students want to come and learn,” he added, noting that a focus is placed on rewarding students when they achieve new accomplishments and make new improvements.
Students who have transitioned back to day school from Nottingham’s Twilight program said the biggest takeaways of the program are the change in outlook that they experienced, as well as the relationships they formed with teachers and other students in the program.
“Before Twilight, I didn’t know what I would do,” senior Sylvia Rivera explained. “Honestly, I thought I’d drop out of high school. I would not have stopped fighting, that’s for sure. But now, I’m grateful. I’ve developed relationships with everyone in the program, and these relationships have helped me learn about myself. My teachers and my friends here have shaped who I am and I got a clear mindset about who I need to be.”
Many of Nottingham’s former Twilight students not only acquired course credit from the program, but career goals as well.
“People think you’re a bad kid if you’re in Twilight,” senior Prince Rilley explained. “But Twilight helped me get my stuff together. It helped me stay who I am and keep my personality but also get on track so I can work with special needs kids one day.”
Senior Jereline Weah had a similar experience. “Twilight helped me find a career path. I knew I wanted to work in the medical field before, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she said. “In Twilight, my teachers talked to me and helped me think about what would be a good fit. I did research and I discovered I want to be an ultrasound technician.”
While Twilight staff caution that the demands of the program are rigorous and that it doesn’t work for everyone, students say the program has the potential to have a huge personal impact.
“It’s all about your mindset,” senior O’nsty Harper explained. “If you go into Twilight willing to change yourself, you will. Twilight helped me realize that I wouldn’t graduate if I didn’t get myself together. I want to be a superstar in school and graduate on time. Now, I have enough credits to graduate, and I have all my Regents exams done. Twilight made me change myself. We were just like some of the freshmen who are acting out—and look at us now!”
Nottingham Twilight Coordinator Mary Kate Gang said many of the students in the program are brimming with potential that just needs to be brought out. “They’re great kids who just needed a small school setting to thrive,” she suggested.
A small school setting, and teachers who care, Jereline added. “The teachers are all on your side in Twilight,” she explained. “We may have been off track when we entered the program, but we came back with a bang!”