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VISD program challenges at-risk students to realize their dreams

By KBell
July 29, 2011 at 2:29 a.m.

Dedric Turner breaks down a division problem for a small class of incoming freshman at East High School during a summer program that strives to prepare kids socially and academically for school. The Destination Success is led by Destiny Consulting, and Turner traveled from Houston to take part in the eight-day camp.

Dreaming is no longer child's play.

For new high schoolers, achieving their dreams of becoming a shoe designer, lawyer, a nurse or forensic scientist require "combining a vision with appropriate and necessary actions."

That was the message Chandra Cleveland was hammering into the minds of more than 60 incoming ninth-graders at East High School's Destination Success summer camp.

"We never had classes like this in school," the teacher said. "Nobody ever talked to you about what you wanted to do until graduation."

The Destination Success program, hosted by the Houston-based company Destiny Consulting, is jumping into students' lives much sooner than graduation, offering both middle school and high school preparedness camps for all Victoria schools.

"The kids need to start thinking about what they want to be in life. We want to make sure they know what it takes educationally to be that and (that) they they can do it," said program founder Willie Pickens.

The camps, in their fourth year, are targeted at students who are traditionally at-risk for dropping out, a problem VISD has been battling.

"In VISD, we try all kinds of interventions," said Susanne Carroll, executive director of curriculum, instruction and assessment. "We want to do whatever it takes to make them successful."

VISD has taken aim at providing greater opportunities for its minority and economically disadvantaged students, two subgroups the TEA evaluates in its yearly performance grades. Carroll said the district found that, of the kids involved in the first year of Destination Success, about 50 percent of them were successful students. That's 50 percent more kids who might not otherwise have stayed in school, she said.

It's a combination of tough love and enthusiastic encouragement that drives the Destination Success program.

The former manifests when Cleveland prepares ninth -grader Skye Valdez for the steps it would take to realize her dream of becoming a dentist: excel in science classes, become involved in community service to be more attractive to highly-selective dentistry schools and prepare for education beyond a four-year degree.

The encouragement comes when she promises to return home that night to research the amount of education her student, Demi Martinez, would need to become a forensic scientist.

"High school is not going to be easy," Demi said after leaving the career development class.

But she and Skye said the eight-day camp has given them a more realistic view of what high school will be like and what it will take to realize their dreams.

"It made me less nervous and prepared us for what's really going to happen," Demi said.

Destination Success is hardly confined to a few hours of classroom time before the beginning of each school year. It's a program that follows students all the way to graduation, whether they like it or not.

Pickens "remains connected with those students throughout the school year. He goes to campuses regularly throughout the school year ... It's providing another caring adult in their life," Carroll said.

Pickens said he and his staff refuse to give up on any student.

"It's very important to follow them through and help them set a career path," he said. "We've had students tell us that people came and told them that they'll be there, and they leave (the students). But we've actually stayed."



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