CUSD program helps struggling students succeed - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

CUSD program helps struggling students succeed

March 3rd, 2023 SanTan Sun News
CUSD program helps struggling students succeed

By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

Last summer Perry High School student Gabriel Ruiz was worried about his upcoming senior year.

“It was not good,” Gabriel said. “I was down a lot of credits, I didn’t think I would graduate at the time. I knew I could make up my core credits, but I didn’t know about electives or any of that stuff.

“I didn’t think I would graduate. I thought I might drop out and get my GED.”

Fast forward to this month and Gabriel learned that not only will he be graduating, but he just got accepted to attend Northern Arizona University.

He credits Chandler Unified School District’s Early College program for helping him turn it around. The school is on the campus of Chandler-Gilbert Community College and offers a small-school alternative to students in need of extra attention.

“It’s a small school,” said Gabriel, who said he thought he was going to be 12 credits short of graduating when the school year began. “At Perry, it’s hard to get noticed because your teachers have like 300 kids. It’s hard to get their attention sometimes, or reach out for help. Here, I just needed that little extra push to get my way there.”

Janeen Scaringelli, the director of Early College, is in her first year in that position and has seen enrollment more than double this year, from 43 students last year to 95 now.

In fact, since the program only has three classrooms, leaders have had to put some students on a waitlist to get in.

What was the key to getting enrollment to more than double in her first year?

“My connections with the counselors at the high school,” Scaringelli replied.

“[We] met and talked with them to promote our program, but it’s really having that personal connection with the counselors, letting them know that we are going to take care of their kids as best we can,” she said.

Students enrolled in the Early College program come from all six CUSD high schools and are from all four grade levels. They remain part of those schools, meaning they can play on sports teams, or participate in band, drama, or attend homecoming and prom.

However, they take their classes at CGCC. In addition, they are eligible to take college courses. The college provides a grant so they can sign up for classes at a discounted rate. The typical Early College student has his or her high school classes in the morning, then college classes in the afternoon.

This differs from the dual enrollment program, where students get college credit for classes they take on their high school campus.

This year, for the first time, an Early College student will not only be graduating from high school, but will also have earned an Associate of Arts degree from CGCC.

So what types of students benefit from the Early College program and why are counselors recommending students?

“They’re not being successful at their school, and they feel that a … smaller school environment will assist,” Scaringelli said. “They also know we have a full-time counselor who’s absolutely amazing. I have a former counseling background. So we kind of give tender, loving care.”

Because of space limitations, all grades take English together at the same time. Students sit in different groups based on their grade level. The teacher takes turns working with each group, while making sure the other groups have a project they need to be working on.

Scaringelli said Gabriel is just one success story and that there are many more.

“His life changed because of here, because he was able to have the opportunity and people that believed in him, because we pushed him,” she said.

Gabriel agrees, saying he can see a brighter future now than the one he imagined last summer.

“I think [I’ll major] in computer science,” he said. “I like computers and I’m pretty good at math, so I’d like to do that.”