here do all the “bad” kids go? You know, those wayward teens who lack discipline, don’t show up on time, and often drop out of school. What happens to a fifteen year old with a learning disability who struggles and falls behind? Who has the time and patience to mentor a teen with an attitude problem these days? Is it even possible for a high school to help a teenage mother get her diploma or craft a schedule for a juvenile who has to work during the day to help feed his family? Sadly, there are many teens in Austin who have given up and forgotten their dreams, if they had any at all. They simply don’t fit the traditional school system of block schedules, closed campuses and the unrelenting pressure to prepare and pay for college, when some don’t believe they are worthy. These challenges drain the resources of traditional schools and sap the spirit of our youth before they even have a chance at shaping their lives. Jesus dropped out at 17 years old to clean offices. “I lived day to day, was always sad, and not very proud of myself.” He looks at the floor and reflects on that lost year. “My parents fought all the time, and my father was very bad.” He paused, then shared a deep truth. “I made some bad choices.”
Six years ago, Frank Oakes took the reigns at Austin Can Academy, a charter school on Rosewood Avenue that serves 479 teenagers. “We’re a recovery school for dropouts,” said Frank. Having served as a teacher and football coach in south San Antonio for 28 years, then as principal at Gary Job Corp, prepared him for the task ahead. He quickly realized the Can had to be rebuilt from the ground up. “We were known as a thug school,” he whispered. Frank started over. 75% of the teachers were moved out. “We tore it all down before we could focus on student achievement.” He set standards for attire, attendance and conduct, demanded of every student, teacher and himself. When Frank walks the halls now, which occurs often, and sees a student with shirttails out or headphones in, his voice bounces off the walls. “I wouldn’t hire you today. Tuck it, pull it and get to your job,” commands Mr. Oakes, as he playfully and skillfully refers to classrooms as a student’s place of work and shows another student little things matter.
“We don’t compete with traditional schools; we partner with them.”
“In the beginning, students ran the school,” remarked Ashley Treat, Development Director. We toured the school and Ashley noticed a coupling. “Guys, separate! Go to class! I know where your aunt works!” The veiled threat parted the pair, and they hurried away. “Our reputation was ‘if you can’t behave in school and don’t want truancy court, come to the Can.” Our tour continued, and I noticed encouraging signs on the walls:
I Can Achieve Anything I Believe In My Dreams If You Stop At General Math You’re Only Going To Make General Math Money ‘Snoop Dog’ Our three student guides, Andrea, Danna and Isaiah all came to the Can based on recommendations from friends. “Teachers make you understand a topic with your own reasoning,” commented Andrea who will attend college next year to study English Literature. “My parents were iffy about me coming
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