Give Phoenix High School students a chance

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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Most Lincoln residents don’t realize Phoenix High School exists.
The continuation high school, located next door to Lincoln High School, doesn’t have a football team.
It doesn’t have a marching band.  And Phoenix High School doesn’t have a Future Farmers of America club or an Interact Key Club.
What it does have are four full-time teachers and up to 10 volunteers, mostly retired teachers and professionals from Lincoln Hills, pushing the 70-plus Phoenix students to excel in their classes.
Phoenix High School is one of 64 continuation schools in the state, said  Giorgos Kazanis, California Department of Education’s information officer.
The school’s focus is to motivate students to graduate from high school.
Unfortunately for Phoenix High School students, the school gets a bad rap from some  community members.
I learned that two weeks ago by reading a disconcerting letter (see page A6) by Ronnie Ridens, a Phoenix High student. He described being considered by conventional high school students and staff and his friends a “screw up” at a school “where the bad kids go.”
Two weeks later, I’m still disturbed by Ronnie’s letter. I wonder how we can help Ronnie and his classmates understand they are as good as anyone else.
“Continuation schools generally fight image problems. For a long time, people have thought it’s a place where bad kids go,” said Phoenix High School Principal Michael Doherty. “We’re constantly fighting that misconception.”
But Phoenix High students “aren’t bad kids,” Doherty pointed out.
“Our kids are typical high school students who struggled at the comprehensive high school (Lincoln High School),” Doherty said. “Their grades dropped and they are now deficient in credits and they get behind so they’re not on track for graduation.”
The  school’s purpose, according to the principal, “is to motivate students” to master the core classes “and earn credits needed for graduation via a smaller class size and more individualized instruction.”
Phoenix students take English, math, science and history classes. A limited amount of elected classes are offered there and a few students take elective classes at Lincoln High School.
Phoenix students must be at least 16-years-old, which includes a few 10th-graders and mostly 11th- and 12th-graders.
“We send some kids back to Lincoln High School,” Doherty said. “We have a good relationship with the high school. Some kids take ROP classes and elective credits there.”
Last year, 23 seniors graduated from Phoenix High School and a handful of students returned to Lincoln High School.
“We have kids who will graduate and go to Sierra or American River junior college and some who quality for four-year colleges,” Doherty said, “and some who go to technical school. Last year, four kids went into the service. It varies.”
Phoenix High students are proud of their accomplishments.
“The kids go through a lot of adversity. A lot are from single families or living with others for whatever reason,” the principal said. “They struggle. When they do become successful, it’s quite rewarding for them and us that they can do it and persevere and set goals.”
There are plenty of success stories, according to Doherty.
“One of our students wanted to go into the service, then wanted to go to Annapolis,” Doherty said.
Annapolis is also known as the U.S. Naval Academy.
“Our student got into Annapolis in 2010 and was No. 1 in his class. We have kids going on to Sierra College and getting into Sac State,” he said.
The general public can make a difference to these students.
“The community can help by understanding who we are and what we do. If you hear negative things, it’s not necessarily true,” Doherty said. “We do community service projects, such as Early Headstart and work with the kids there. They do work around the school.”
The public can also help by volunteering. Doherty said the school could use volunteers “who enjoy working with kids and have skills and assets that we can utilize.”
Donations are also needed for school supplies.
“We can always use supplies, for example, for art projects and for materials for students who don’t have funds to buy notebooks,” Doherty said.
Sherri Melchner, a Ceramic Arts Group of Lincoln Hills member, did not know what to expect when she voluntarily designed a ceramics class for the school a few months ago.
“I met a bunch of kids there and they were almost non-communicative two months ago,” she said. “I didn’t know whether it would work out.”
But Melcher and her friend, Linda Moon, offered the class and the ceramics art group donated clay and tools. They didn’t know if students would attend.
But six students showed up, and today, there is a waiting list for the art class that meets Mondays and Wednesdays.
“My class is amazing. They were so enthusiastic, so delightful, so respectful,” Melcher said. “Nobody ran around, no one spoke out of turn, they were completely focused on the project. They were very creative.
Melcher praised the students.
“They were neat, they were clean, they helped set up and they helped clean up, they were respectful of each other, there was no bad language,” Melcher said. “It was brilliant. Linda and I were absolutely thrilled. We didn’t know what to expect but their enthusiasm was contagious.”
Melchner is now the Phoenix students’ advocate.
“We love these kids. The kids wrote a thank-you note to the ceramics club.  One of the boys went to our studio to say thank you; he took it upon himself to thank the group and one of our teachers for contributing the clay,” Melchner said. “When someone says these kids are a waste of time, they’re absolutely not. You have to see how beautiful their work is. It’s brilliant, it’s stunning.”