Unique Program Supports At-Risk Youth 

Drop-out rates decrease with specialized interventions

June 25, 2013

This month, over 30 students between the ages of 17-22 achieved what many of them believed to be impossible. They graduated from high school.


The June ceremony marked the second graduation for the Pathways to Accelerated Student Success (PASS) Institute, which was created to help combat the dropout rate while giving at-risk students an opportunity to reinvent themselves. PASS was the brainchild of Molly Burke, who as part of her role with CPS’ Office of Pathways to College and Career wrote a grant to support its creation. The grant was approved by the U.S. Department of Education in 2010, and the program implemented the following year within the confines of Marshall Metropolitan High School.


With the support of its creator, as well as PASS Institute Director Dionne Kirksey and Marshall Principal Angel Johnson, the PASS Institute serves students who had previously left school without a diploma.


“These are kids who need and deserve a second chance,” said Kirksey. “This program gives them a new opportunity to succeed, especially when school wasn’t a priority for them before.”


Some of the keys to its success have been the small classes and flexible schedule provided by the PASS Institute. In addition to a traditional daytime schedule, PASS offers an extended day program that caters to students who work or care for family members during the day. Some academic components of the PASS Institute include Read 180, a program focused on building grammar, vocabulary and writing skills, and a credit recovery system that allows students to take online courses in subjects they had previously failed while in a traditional high school. 


“Many of these students are extremely smart,” said Lindsay Goldfarb, a social worker for the PASS Institute. “It’s incredible to see the pride and determination that comes out when that academic light bulb suddenly comes on. We love watching them blossom and find their potential.”


In addition to academics, the PASS Institute also emphasizes workforce skills such as resume writing and interview preparation, and provides social/emotional learning, counseling services, and mentoring programs.


“We will do anything to help our students be successful,” said Goldfarb of the PASS Institute’s staff. “We’ll even go to their homes, get them out of bed and bring them to school when we need to.”


Such intervention is rarely necessary, however, as the average attendance rate for students at the PASS Institute is higher than 70 percent.


“It’s all about the staff,” said Kirksey. “Our relationships with these students make all the difference. Kids will come to school some days just because they don’t want to disappoint any of us. That’s the kind of bond we’ve been able to achieve.”


In addition to dedicated Director Kirksey, the PASS Institute employs a general education teacher, a special education teacher, a Reading teacher, a Student Engagement Specialist, a Social Worker, a Counselor, and a security officer.


“We all believe in being patient, forgiving, and non-judgmental,” said Goldfarb of her colleagues. “And if a student misbehaves, we try to focus on the opportunity for a teachable moment. We cannot hold any student accountable for inappropriate behavior when they may not have ever been taught the right way to handle something. Providing them with social/emotional skills only enhances their academic success.”


Since opening its doors in 2011, the PASS Institute has graduated over 100 students, most of whom never expected to earn a high school diploma.


“It is a big accomplishment for the students and for us,” said Kirksey, “because in addition to helping them to graduate, we’ve taught everyone in their circles – family, friends, and younger classmates – how to be more positive, productive citizens.”