By Hon. Andrea R. Trevino | Allen Superior Court
It’s a story that too many families have experienced. While at school, a student is in a fight; caught with drugs, contraband, or a weapon; and ends up at the juvenile center and then on probation.
The student may also face expulsion from school, which can last a semester or longer. The students who do return are often discouraged, embarrassed, and lag behind their peers. Too many high school students who are expelled never make it to graduation. Many colleges will not even consider an applicant with an expulsion.
But there is a school in Fort Wayne that provides a student with an opportunity to stay on track. The Allen County Learning Academy (ACLA) is located on the lower level of the Allen County Juvenile Center, where I serve as the Supervising Judge.
ACLA is the most impressive school you’ve never heard about, with a curriculum, strict rules of conduct, a dress code, and high expectations. The goal of the Academy is simple: keep students on track and at their grade level. Under the leadership of Jill Carboni, Director of Education, and Kyle Carey, Assistant Director of Education, the dedicated teachers at ACLA work to keep students in grades 6 to 12 moving forward as they serve out a punishment.
An ACLA student lands with us after their home school presents them with a choice: accept expulsion or participate in classes at ACLA. When the student successfully completes the ACLA program, the expulsion is erased from the student’s record.
Schools understand that these are not “bad” or unsavable kids, just ones who have made potentially life-altering mistakes. ACLA is in partnership with Allen County’s four largest school districts: Fort Wayne Community, Northwest, Southwest, and East Allen County. Each one contributes teachers to the staff of ACLA, and in exchange each may send up to 25 students to the Academy. The Juvenile Center covers the remaining expenses of ACLA.
Teachers appreciate an assignment to ACLA and view it as an opportunity to express their passion and creativity for the students and their craft. They also enjoy the small class size. Classes range between 1 and 15 students, allowing teachers freedom to gear lessons to the individual needs of the student.
Between 8:55 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., ACLA students are immersed in a curriculum that looks like any other school, including classes in algebra, biology, business, language arts, government, and world history. Maintaining order is key, from the uniform (gray or white tucked-in polo, belt, slacks, and matching shoe laces) to the methodical lineups for bathroom breaks and lunches. We work to restore a measure of structure and discipline to their lives.
Between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, ACLA students doubled the number of credits earned toward their high school diploma or high school equivalency (HSE) certificate. Between 2013 and 2018, we also doubled the number of students finishing 100% of their courses.
ACLA provides a last-chance opportunity for these students to earn credits and keep moving forward. It provides an education while working to change behavior. When these challenged kids complete the program and launch the next step in their lives, they will do so with tools to enable their best chance of success.
It is a next step they worked hard to earn, and one that was possible only because of the most impressive school you’ve never heard about-until now.