Emerson Alternative School is the oldest alternative program in the state.
For this new school year, it is spawning a new mid high school for Oklahoma City Public Schools on the south side that will eventually double the program’s reach.
“I’m excited to be a part of this,” said Shaina Thomas. “This is my second year to teach and I’m looking forward to using what I learned last year.”
She will help launch Emerson South’s first year as a middle school English teacher.
Thomas said she is eager to apply what she is learning in her doctorate program at the University of Oklahoma.
Most years, the original Emerson near downtown has over 400 students and expects that number this year.
The new south location is expected to eventually take in around 500 high school students plus 90 middle school students effectively doubling the impact of the long-running Emerson approach.
“We are going to save some kids,” said Dr. Terri Bell, Director of Student Support Services for OKCPS.
She said even though money is tight, they plan for the added enrollment to help pay for the expense by increased average daily attendance.
But that’s not the point as far as she is concerned.
Both Dr. Bell and Sheri Kishore, Director of Alternative Education emphasized that it’s the lives that are recovered that matters the most.
Wrap around services
The Emerson program has developed a wrap-around program over the years that is designed to support students who have much going on in their lives to interfere with completing high school.
The root of the Emerson program was a then-quiet program for pregnant teens in OKCPS during a time in the 1960s when girls were expected to stay home once they got pregnant.
Over the years the program has matured to help students who have a variety of road blocks that can stop them from staying in school.
Variety Care is a community partner with Emerson and several other schools in OKCPS to provide education on pregnancy prevention and medical care for pregnant students or their children after birth.
Oklahoma County is No. 1 in the United States for pregnancy with 18-19-year-olds according to Robyn Coventon, Variety Care’s chief administrative officer who meet with us during the visit.
So, the need is great for education and care that will allow students to move on to graduation which is the biggest measurable goal for the program every year.
“We had 182 graduates at Emerson this last year,” Kishore said proudly. She was the principal at Emerson before being promoted to director of alternative education.
Brad Buxton is the new principal of what they are calling Emerson South.
Kishore said that once the students and teachers get the year launched the district will start a process that will bring students and teachers together to come up with a name for the new school.
Having once been a juvenile probation officer, Buxton became frustrated with only trying to help young people after they had already gotten in trouble in their lives.
“What drew me from criminal justice into education was a concern of, ‘Hey, let’s get them on the front end,” Buxton said.
He has taught in two suburban schools, been assistant principal for Jefferson Middle School, and administrated several special school settings for the state.
Tuesday, Aug. 1, is the first day of school for Oklahoma City Public Schools.
When Free Press took a tour of the new storefront campus near I-240 and S. Pennsylvania Friday teachers, administrators and other staff were hard at work.
They were setting up classrooms and offices with furnishings that have been brought in from around the district to save money on the start.
OKCPS got a bargain on the string of storefront spaces that had been the for-profit Wright Business College that went through a collapse recently, leaving the attractive space open for other institutions to move in.
That’s when the district picked up their lease on the space.
Sandra Farha, Family and Consumer Sciences teacher, was hard at work setting up her classroom where students will learn important life skills of caring for their children.
“This is such an important aspect of their education,” said Farha. “And I love teaching these skills.”
Free Press will continue to follow progress of the new school.