PANTHER PRIDE

PANTHER PRIDE. A mural at Jordan High School in North Long Beach is one of few things not changing on campus this fall. Major construction and academic changes are underway.

There’s plenty of change that’s easy to see with construction crews working at Jordan High School — but there also are some significant academic and social revolutions happening at the school this fall, too.

Outside of the ongoing multi-million-dollar renovation of the uptown school, Principal Shawn Ashley talked this week about two new programs being unrolled this year: Academic Path to Excellence (APEX) and Successful Training Apprenticeship Recruitment (STAR).

APEX, designed for advanced students who want the opportunity to take multiple AP (Advanced Placement) tests qualifying for college credit, launched this fall. There are about 30 ninth graders in the program now, who are expected to remain there through the 12th grade and potentially pass six AP tests.

“This is brand new,” Ashley said. “We’ve really just started recruiting, but we know that student interest in AP is high so we want to offer them more opportunities to take those courses.”

Currently, Ashley said Jordan offers fewer AP classes than most other schools in the district. If the school wants to be more competitive, he believes adding more AP classes to the schedule is imperative. Also, getting more Jordan students to take the AP tests is important to improving the school’s reputation, he added.

“I have 400 smart and talented kids living in this neighborhood who choose to go to other schools at LBUSD each year,” he said. “We want to convince them to stay in North Long Beach.”

Teacher Patrick Estes talked to a classroom of students on Tuesday morning about the differences between the different programs offered at Jordan. Educating the students about the opportunities available at the school is an ongoing process.

“It’s my 36th year in education, and I’m happy to be here and optimistic about Jordan,” he said. “We’re headed in the right direction.”

During his lesson, he talked to students about both APEX and the school’s International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB). Both programs, considered to be the school’s honors tracks, are running simultaneously this year. IB, recognized worldwide, has been available for more than two decades at Jordan and is the only magnet program of its kind in the district.

Estes encouraged students to look into both tracks as possible options, detailing some of the differences and similarities of each, in addition to other programs offered at the school. However, LBUSD’s Board of Education sometime next spring will vote on whether or not to continue the IB program so that the school can focus more on developing APEX.

“This went to the board last February (2014), and the decision was made not to replace it but to add APEX for those who aren’t doing IB,” Ashley said, adding that the decision will be revisited this spring.

The future of the IB program depends on how much it is supported by students who want to participate in it, he said. There currently are about 400 people in the IB program out of the school’s 3,600 students.

An outspoken group of about a dozen Jordan alums, students and teachers, called J-Town Community, advocated this year on behalf of keeping IB at Jordan. Among them is alumna Jodie Rivas, who is now a substitute teacher for LBUSD.

“We hope to keep the program at Jordan because we know how much the program influenced our success in life,” Rivas said.

Biology teacher Alan Van Divort, who works with IB and AP students, said he hopes that administrators and the school board can find a way to maintain IB and build upon APEX and the number of AP classes offered at the school. He believes more options would attract some of those students who currently opt to attend other schools in the district.

“A lot of students come here specially for IB,” he said.

Van Divort, who has taught at Jordan for 10 years, acknowledged there is a higher cost of the IB program, and there’s also quite a bit of attrition associated with IB because it is so difficult. Out of the 120 freshmen signed up this year, he expects only about 30 to stay on through their senior year and less than five will likely earn a prestigious IB diploma.

“Providing IB is at least three times as expensive (to offer to students than a typical honors track), but it’s worth it because it is a higher quality program,” he said. “It’s a difficult program, a gauntlet really. But it so well prepares you for college. It is so worth it and such a mark of distinction.”

No matter what the fate is for IB, Jordan High School students also can look forward to the spring rollout of STAR. Designed for students who aren’t quite as passionate about academics, STAR is a collaboration between Jordan and Laborers’ Union Local No. 1309.

“This is going to be spectacular,” Ashley said. “We know that some of our 11th and 12th graders have dug themselves in a hole, but if they demonstrate decent grades and attendance and behavior, regardless of what they have done in the past, we are offering them a unique opportunity.”

The first such job training program of its kind in the area, STAR is expected to start this spring after recruitment is done this fall, Ashley said the partnership with the Laborers’ Union will give students hands-on job training. The students could even have the opportunity to work on the construction project being done at their high school.

Laborers’ Union Local No. 1309 Business Agent Andrew Mayorga approached Ashley about the pilot program. He said students who pursue a career in the industry could earn as much as $33 per hour. The students must still earn their high school diploma.

“We are trying to give these kids another reason to stay in school,” Mayorga said. “And, hopefully they can get jobs in their neighborhood. If we can change five lives, then we’ve made a difference to the whole community.”

So while workers pound the pavement and students walk through designated areas of the construction zone, Ashley talks with enthusiasm about the changes happening inside and out at Jordan this fall. That enthusiasm seems to be contagious, as Ashley mentions how students there are gaining more school spirit every year.

“In the past four years we’ve gone from 14 to 35 cheerleaders, from 15 to 50 in student government…” he said. “More students are graduating and attendance is up 2%.”

Ashleigh Ruhl can be reached at aruhl@gazettes.com.

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