August 1, 2002
As one of the 117 schools statewide to be Accredited With Warning, Bryant Alternative High School may receive some additional support from Gov. Mark Warner’s new education initiative.
The governor announced the initiative earlier this month. “We all have a duty to these children to give these schools the help they need to help themselves,” Warner said. “We know that partnerships build successful schools so we are asking students, parents, teachers, principals, communities and business leaders across Virginia to join this partnership.”
While Bryant is not one of the 34 schools that Warner has identified as Partnership for Achieving Successful Schools (PASS) priority schools, it will receive special attention. Academic review teams will spend up to four days reviewing curricula and advising administrators and faculty on effective strategies for boosting student performance on SOLs. Many successful partnerships are currently in place at the school and others are being initiated.
Jan McKee has been the principal at Bryant for seven years. “There are five separate programs in the building so we can meet the needs of a very diverse group of students,” she said. “While a very small percentage of our students are referred by the School Board, most of them come to us voluntarily for a variety of reasons. Some of our students do not speak English very well but have a great deal of education in their home countries; some have missed a lot of school at their base schools because of job responsibilities; some just need a different environment than that which is offered in a traditional high school.”
MANY OF THE students are over the age of 18. These students apply to Bryant on their own. “About 85 percent of our students work full time and attend school,” McKee said. “We have night classes to accommodate these students. We also have a partnership with United Community Ministries, who operate a daycare facility in our building. We have a certain number of slots reserved for our students who have children.”
About 20 percent of the students at Bryant attend the program for pregnant and parenting teens. “We offer the young women classes in child development and parenting so that they can understand the needs of their children,” McKee said.
Some of these students can be as young as 13. “We work very closely with Fairfax County Department of Human Services to arrange healthcare appointments and to meet the daycare needs. We focus on preparing all of our students for careers after high school because we understand that a high school diploma does not necessarily prepare you for a career.”
Bryant staff works closely with a number of technology corporations to prepare students for careers in the computer field. Bryant offers A-plus training and other technology courses. “Our technology teachers teach the course but we work closely with corporations to determine the requirements that students will need to meet to obtain jobs in this highly competitive field,” McKee said.
Tamara Newkirk is 18 and will graduate from Bryant on Aug. 8. She came to the school in March of this year. “I had some deaths in my family this year and missed so many days that I wasn’t going to be able to graduate from my school,” she said. “I came to Bryant because I knew I could complete my required courses and graduate. I have improved my grade point average and have gotten more training in computers. That’s what I want to do.”
Newkirk will leave for the United States Air Force in October and her field will be computer operations. “Everyone at Bryant has been great and I have learned a lot,” Newkirk said.
STUDENTS LIKE Newkirk graduate from Bryant with standard or advanced diplomas. “We offer all of the standard courses and we have some students who even take advanced placement exams,” McKee said. “We don’t have the staff to offer advanced placement courses but when we identify a particular student with a particular aptitude in an area, we pair that student with a teacher for tutoring so that the student can take the exam.”
Fifteen of this year’s 165 graduates will attend a four-year college or university while an additional 25 students will enroll in career or technical schools. The Dream Catcher program, a partnership with George Mason University, has made it possible for a number of Bryant graduates to enroll there. “Many of our students just don’t think that college is possible, mostly for financial reasons, and we help them to understand that it is indeed possible,” McKee said.
SOLs are an issue. Currently, Bryant is held to the same standards as any high school in the state. “Our students are very bright but I am not sure that the school as a whole can achieve a 70-percent pass rate in all areas,” McKee said. “I do believe that any student who receives a high school diploma should be able to pass the SOL test but we have a 50-percent turnover rate in our student population in any given year.
"Also, in most schools, students are in ninth through twelfth grades when they are between 14 and 18 years of age. Here, we have students of all ages. There is a task force that is looking at accrediting alternative programs differently so I am hopeful.”
IN THE MEANTIME, the school has shown dramatic improvement in SOL performance over the past three years. Bryant has a 69-percent pass rate in English, a 52-percent pass rate in math and a 58-percent pass rate in social studies. “Our teachers have just done a remarkable job,” McKee said.
One of those teachers is Sandra Davis who teaches World History II and I. “I can’t think of any place else in the world I would rather teach,” Davis said. “Being at Bryant is like being part of a family. We have an opportunity to know the students and to be involved with them. Also, for the most part, every student who is here wants to be here and wants to achieve.”
Prior to coming to Bryant, Davis taught at Herndon High School and at a high school in Texas. “I learn as much from my students as they learn from me,” she said. “As a matter of fact, they inspired me to go back to school at the age of 54 and get a master’s degree. They made me believe it was possible, even at my age.”
Bryant serves about 450 students each year from throughout Fairfax County. There are three graduations – one in February, one in June and one in August. The next graduation ceremony will be held Aug. 8, at 7:30 p.m. at the school.