Katy ISD plans partnership to help dropout students earn diplomas

Katy ISD is working with Katy Mills in a new program to help students who dropped out of school earn their degrees.

The KISD board of trustees unanimously approved a partnership in December with the Simon Youth Foundation, a nonprofit that was created by Simon Property Group—the  company that owns numerous malls around the country, including Katy Mills.

“We’re really excited to be partnering with Katy Mills and Katy Independent School District,” Simon Youth Foundation Communications director Jay Kenworthy said. “The school district is really being aggressive about addressing these problems.”

Construction of the 5,000-square-foot Katy Mills Simon Youth Academy buildout for classroom space is expected to begin in April.

The goal is to have the space open and ready for students by the start of the 2016-17 academic year in August.

Simon will fund the buildout of the classroom space while Katy ISD provides teachers, administrators and the curriculum for the students who will be in the program.

“We hope to be open with at least 50 students,” said Heather DeVries, a KISD dropout prevention, intervention and recovery coordinator.

DeVries said there will be room for more students and the goal is to grow the program over time.

The program will target participants who dropped out of the school district during the 2015-16 school year.

Half of the 50 students would attend class the morning and half in the afternoon or evening, she said.

“It’s going to be very individualized,” DeVries said. “The time frame is going to really be dependent on, No. 1, what graduation requirements the student still has left [to complete] and what their level of commitment is in terms of attending a full-day instructional program or a partial day instructional program.”

The initial plan is to have six teachers for the academy, including four content-area teachers, a career and technical education teacher and a Spanish teacher.

KISD will also provide a principal, a counselor and a part-time social worker for the students, DeVries said.

The Katy Mills Simon Youth Academy will be the first in the Greater Houston area and third in Texas.

Other academies are located in El Paso and San Antonio, Kenworthy said.

There are 26 academies nationwide in 12 different states.

Kenworthy said the foundation started in 1998 after Simon executives observed youth loitering in malls during normal school hours.

“[It was] an opportunity for the company to become a good corporate citizen,” Kenworthy said.

DeVries said one challenge of moving dropout students back into a classroom setting is making sure the students are ready.

“They are going to have to, No. 1, make sure they’re ready to recommit,” DeVries said. “We want them to have that desire, and we’re going to sell it to make sure they understand as young adults what that high school diploma can do for them immediately and in their future.”

Graduates could eventually earn a professional certification, more easily move up the career ladder or enroll in a community college or university, she said.

DeVries said part of the program may also include partnerships with Katy Mills retailers.

“We hope that we have some of those retail partners come in and talk to our young adults,” DeVries said.


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