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"It's My Life" blueprint for adulthood helps at-risk students make better choices

The students reminded me of myself in high school. They were cynical. They acted out. They were what teachers considered to be “troublemakers.” Except, during the It’s My Life class, they weren’t. Instead of smirking, they were listening. They were taking time for self-reflection on their lives. They were engaged and focused on creating a better future. 
Right before my eyes, I could see these students developing into future success stories, if only they’d try just a little bit harder.

The It’s My Life class is a staple at Pacific High, a continuation school in Ventura for students who could not succeed in a regular school environment. Ventura Unified Education Association President Chip Fraser describes it as a “blueprint for adulthood” to help students make better choices. Topics include: Knowing your own potential; asking the right questions; understanding the problem and exploring potential solutions; creating a life plan; and overcoming obstacles. Fraser and former teacher Brian Jaramillo started the program in 2007 with the help of an NEA grant, and CTA’s Institute for Teaching has provided grant money over the past three years. 

Fraser says it was necessary because he saw students on a daily basis who were lacking important information to succeed in life. Someone has to provide it, he says, and it might as well be him. Good for Chip! It wasn’t easy to get this course past administrators, but he did it. He has grit: This guy once walked 500 miles to talk to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger about public school funding.

Students in the class shared stories of fighting, bullying and forgiveness. One girl who fought a bully confided that she felt badly afterward because that person was “messed up” from a terrible childhood and had problems of her own. Students talked about what they could have done differently to avoid mistakes in the past and what they can do differently now. Right before my eyes, I could see these students developing into future success stories, if only they’d try just a little bit harder.

When I was in school in the 1970s, troublemakers took drugs, ran away from home and got expelled. Today, clearly, the stakes are much higher. On the walls of the It’s My Life classroom are photos of former students who have died in gang violence. Making positive choices has never been more important for teenagers.

As I sat there watching these students grow up, I felt extremely proud that CTA would fund such a project. In an era of high-stakes testing and accountability, this class is not something that focuses on raising test scores. But It’s My Life helps to ensure that students will hopefully be alive – and in school – so they can one day take the California High School Exit Exam and graduate into adulthood.

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