Life Skills offers students tools to move forward

February 18, 2013
photo - Volunteer art teacher Korri Oxford coaches Josh Walker, 18, during an art class at the Life Skills Center on Thursday. Oxford teaches once a week at the alternative school. Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK, THE GAZETTE
Volunteer art teacher Korri Oxford coaches Josh Walker, 18, during an art class at the Life Skills Center on Thursday. Oxford teaches once a week at the alternative school. Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK, THE GAZETTE 

Life Skills Center is a hive of activity.

On Thursday, volunteer Korri Oxford taught elective art classes. Color theory was the main lesson, but students also pored over art books, came up with ideas for a possible gallery showing, and shared drawings they had finished on their own time.

In other classrooms, computers hummed as students worked on assignments and teachers tutored.

Life Skills is a small alternative charter school in Colorado Springs School District 11 that mixes computer-based learning with one-on-one teaching.

Life Skills also offers vocational training and exposes students to options beyond high school.

The program is aimed at pushing kids into their future, whether that is a job right after graduation, technical training or a four-year college.

“A lot of our students haven’t really thought about what to do after high school,” said Principal Kim Caplan.

Caplan said the school wants to teach all the skills that help students grow into young adults, not just the math, science, writing, social studies and other skills needed to graduate.

“Students get to personalize their own learning experience,” Caplan said.

The school draws a diverse student body and the students, ages 16 to 21, attend for a variety of reasons.

Many come to Life Skills missing credits, or falling below grade level. About 10 percent are parents.

“It’s not just bad kids, it’s also good kids,” said Ayla Britton, 17.

Some students are strong academically, but didn’t mesh well with traditional education.

Life Skills works to keep kids in school and connects students with any social services that are needed.

Except for a few classes that are textbook-based, most curriculum is online. Writing is part of every subject. However, students work on assignments in class, where a teacher is just steps away.

“There’s a lot more help,” said Reanna Norman, 17. She had tried an online school but fell behind. Having a teacher in the classroom working with her made all the difference, she said.

“A lot of students don’t like questions or advocating for themselves,” Caplan said. They will work on a subject until they get stuck and then stop, she added.

School is more flexible at Life Skills.

“You come here and can get stuff done,” said Britton. “You can go at your own pace.”

Teachers know when a student is struggling and needs more attention, Caplan said.

“It’s like extreme tutoring,” said math and science teacher Angela Jennings.

The school is busy most of the year, Caplan said.

“We’re only closed in July,” she said.

Students have to attend one five-hour session each day. One session begins in the morning and one in the afternoon. Many students opt to attend both, Caplan said.

Enrollment fluctuates between 250 and 270 students during the year.

“We’re a little smaller than we used to be, but that helps us,” she said. “We’re not overcrowded and everyone gets the attention they need.”

While the D-11 Life Skills is the only one in Colorado, there are 16 centers in Ohio and one in Arizona. The school has been chartered through D-11 since 2004.

Several students said it has made a difference, and credited Life Skills with changing their minds about pursuing careers and college.

“They help you plan for what (you) want to do,” said Josh Wallace, 18.

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