When America Lara moved to Spring ISD last year, transferring from her old school in her old district to attend Westfield High School, the change to the large campus was tough, and made even harder by the effects of the pandemic. Already struggling to stay motivated with her schoolwork before the move, Lara – who turns 18 this month – found herself thinking about quitting.
“I was ready to just drop out and give up,” she said.
Then, a conversation with her Westfield counselor led Lara to consider another possibility, one that not all district students even know is available to them – enrolling in Spring ISD’s Achieving Success Alternative Program (ASAP), housed in a quiet collection of portable buildings tucked away behind Westfield and Bammel Middle School, with classrooms connected by outdoor boardwalks rather than crowded interior corridors.
There, away from the bustle of the district’s larger high school campuses, Spring ISD students who are accepted into ASAP meet with their teachers in small classes – many with 10 students or less – to focus on credit recovery, new credit acquisition, and – for most students – making up for lost time.
“ASAP really gave me another opportunity, another chance, basically,” Lara said. “Now, it’s like I have hope because I have this opportunity, and I have faith that I’m going to graduate.”
Launched by Spring ISD as a dropout recovery program in 2015, ASAP currently serves about 60 students, although the program’s flexible set-up and adaptable timetable means enrollment changes regularly according to need.
From the program’s home base at the Southridge portables, Principal Stacy Smith oversees both ASAP – where students attend classes in person on a part-day schedule – and the Spring ISD Virtual Academy, which allows students across the district to take select courses online while still attending their home campus.
“Our program serves students well who have outside-of-school experiences that they’re going through,” Smith said of ASAP. “We have students with multiple children, we have students who have to work during the school day in order to support their families. So this program provides that flexibility for them to be able to do both.”
ASAP students complete their coursework using the Edgenuity online platform, under the guidance and support of the onsite teaching staff. Both credit-recovery and initial-credit course options are available, and students are able to work through classes much more quickly than at their home campus. Smith explained that the timeline can be accelerated even faster if students are able to spend extra time on coursework outside of the school day.
“We tell them that all the time: ‘When you get here, your graduation date is determined by you,’” Smith said. “They don’t have to wait until the end of the school year, so they can move on and go to college or go to full-time working, or whatever it is that they have in mind. But they are truly the biggest determiner in their success.”
The program also offers students several class schedules, to best fit their needs. Many students start at ASAP first thing, eating breakfast in the small cafeteria building before classes start, then wrapping up their school day around noon. Others choose to begin around midday, or even take the bulk of their classes in the evening after work.
The program is designed to meet students where they are and provide the targeted support they need. Smith cited the example of a recent ASAP graduate who joined the program – shortly before hitting the cutoff age of 26 – after realizing that dropping out of high school had limited her career potential and her ability to provide for her growing family.
“We had a young lady who was working in an industry where she was really a manager in job performance, but she was not able to receive the monetary compensation and the title of manager because she didn’t have her high school diploma,” Smith said. “She graduated just shy of her 26th birthday, and is now able to be compensated for the work that she was already doing.”
The program’s graduation ceremonies – which often include only one graduate, and which can take place any day of the school week – are simple, but also exciting moments for Smith, ASAP faculty, and graduates’ families.
“Her children came to graduation with her,” Smith said. “It was really exciting to see, because it’s not too late. It’s not too late to graduate, if that’s what you want to do.”
Another current ASAP student, Anthony McKinney, said that the program had given him a renewed sense of purpose and a feeling that he could achieve his dream of graduating with his high school diploma.
“It’s an amazing school,” McKinney said. “If you’re considering the program, come. It’s a perfect choice, and you can get your work done at your own pace.”
A lifelong home cook with dreams of attending culinary school and becoming a chef, McKinney struggled with the transition to online learning during the pandemic and fell behind in his classes at his home campus of Westfield. But he knew that having his diploma would help open doors to get him where he wanted to go. After discussing ASAP with his counselor, McKinney knew it was the right choice for him.
“Everything over here moves faster,” McKinney said, “but everybody over here actually cares about you graduating, and they’ll do anything, help-wise, to help you graduate.”
He also said it was inspiring to get to see other students regularly completing their requirements and receiving their diplomas.
“You finish at your own pace,” McKinney said. “I’ve just got to put in the effort.”
McKinney and Lara both described coming to ASAP as a turning point for them personally. Smith explained that, for students looking for a different environment from a traditional high school campus, ASAP can often be a perfect fit.
“We hear a lot, ‘My teachers care about me here,’” Smith said, “and I really just think that means that they feel seen here.”
For now, both McKinney and Lara are focused on staying the course, drawing support from their teachers as well as inspiration from the stories of fellow ASAP students completing their studies and graduating. Lara, no longer lacking in motivation, now has her sights set on college – community college first, then transferring to a four-year school to earn her bachelor’s degree.
She’s even looking forward to becoming part of a special ASAP tradition that she’d initially laughed off – the success board in the school’s cafeteria, where each new graduate’s photo in their cap-and-gown regalia is added to others from their campus who have graduated this year through ASAP.
“I’m looking forward to graduating. I’m looking forward to getting my picture taken and them putting it up there,” Lara said. “It gives me hope.”