A program for students who need or prefer alternative education outside traditional school in a structured environment, has impacted the lives many.
The Y is centered on social responsibility. According to YMCA.net, YMCA buildings weren’t constructed with gymnasiums until 1869, 25 years after its founding in 1844. It was a place designed to meet social need in the community. One need today is meeting students’ different learning styles.
For a variety of reasons, when students arrive at the Chandler/Gilbert YMCA i-Learn program, something isn’t working for them in the Chandler high schools: how they learn, how they interact with others or how they are motivated.
“They feel defeated; they don’t know what to do.” I-Learn program director James Martinez said. “They come here feeling like: ‘I’m just kind of done.’”
Students come from all four high schools in Chandler. They’ve been moved around, they’ve struggled and now they are a seemingly random group in a new place. Many are self motivated, but just need a new environment. It happens to be the perfect recipe for success.
“They come here and settle down a bit. They look at the other students and realize someone here has a similar problem.” Martinez said. “They really support each other. They call each other up in the morning. ‘We are all stuck in this situation,’ they say, ‘let’s try and finish.’”
The YMCA i-Learn program, funded in part through a grant from Phoenix Suns Charities, partners with the Chandler Unified School District offering a way for students to complete classes and earn their high school diploma. One or two sessions per day of one-on-one online coursework in a smaller setting helps these students succeed. When they earn the credits they need, they can graduate with their classmates and get their high school diploma.
The Chandler i-Learn Program is filled with students who are not just stuck, but those who are so far behind they don’t know what to do.
Our plan with the Chandler i-Learn Program is to start with simply talking to these kids, listening to their story, helping them see their value and that they mean something. Establishing that connection with each kid who comes to the program allows them to realize that graduation and their future is within their grasp. We can then map out a plan of what it will take and how to do it. The smaller class size gives them the accountability they need.
“I came to America at the age of five with my big sister to meet up with my mom. I never really met my mom because she left for America when I was small and I don’t remember her. It was nice to be here, but it’s so different from my home in Honduras.
I went to two different elementary schools, then attended Anderson Jr. High. After that I went to Chandler High. Chandler High school is where I was faced with many problems. It was there I started to get into trouble. I got into a lot of fights, skipped school and my grades dropped. I really hated school. All of my friends were trouble makers. I hung out with the wrong crowd to say the least. Eventually, Chandler High got rid of me and put me in Chief Hill. Chief Hill was no better for me. I was still a trouble maker and my grades weren’t very much better. I needed something different.
Next, they sent me to an alternative school called i-Learn at the YMCA. I had no idea this place existed. My first day there I was afraid of coming because I thought it would be the same. After a semester, I started doing a little better, I kind of liked school and was showing and giving other people respect. Mr. Martinez was nice to me and he told me he would help me get my credits to graduate. Now, I’m back on track, I like coming to school, and have some good friends here. Also, I’m no longer a trouble maker anymore. Amazing how things can change when you have the right attitude and the right environment. I’m glad I came here and for the help I received from the i-Learn staff. I even get to work out in the YMCA gym and stay in shape. One more thing, I have a mentor now, to help me stay on track and out of trouble. My mentor’s name is Sybil and she is a great lady and helps me get through the hard times.
I might have had a rough start, but I have found the place that makes me comfortable, where I can learn, get mentored, and be surrounded by good people. I will finish high school early and then off to college. I hope.”