Formerly known as the Alternative Education Program, Da’ok Academy is now established as an official Public School System high school, made to provide an alternative learning setting for students not succeeding the general school population while continuing to meet their educational needs.
Da’ok Academy serves students at the high school level from grades 9 through 12. Overage students are enrolled on a conditional basis depending on Board Policy §60-20-414(a). Otherwise, all students at Da’ok Academy are enrolled long-term of up to a full school year. Students may be able to transition back to the main high schools depending on a comprehensive review. Da’ok Academy also serves adjudicated students who are incarcerated at the Department of Corrections (DOC). A Da’ok Academy teacher collaborates with all secondary schools who have students serving time at DOC to provide instructional services to these students.
The structure of the school serves as an intervention to help students remain on track towards graduation. The school has an administration that consists of a school principal and a vice principal. To provide academic advising and other support services, there is one school counselor. For teaching faculty, there are four classroom teachers at the school with each teacher focusing on teaching one core content area of English Language Arts, Math, and Science. Starting in January 2018 through collaboration with the Division of Youth Services and Department of Public Safety, a fifth Da’ok Academy teacher was hired and designated to provide educational services full-time to students who are incarcerated at the correctional facility.
The enrollment process to Da’ok Academy is based on referrals from the main high schools. To build consistency in intervention and support, referrals are long-term for the duration of a semester to a full school year. As an alternative education school, a small student-to-teacher ratio is integral to meet the individual needs of each student while providing the needed structure and support to ensure that every student is successful.
The school is located at Building H within the Marianas High School campus. There are three full-size classrooms, two small classrooms, and three office spaces.
Pupil transportation through the PSS bus system remains a challenge for the school. Because the school is located in Marianas High School campus, the busing is provided only to students who live in the zoning for MHS. These villages include Garapan, Chalan Lau Lau, Chalan Kiya, Chalan Kanoa, Susupe, Fina Sisu, Kanat Tabla, As Lito, and San Vicente. Therefore, students who live in the southern, northern, and northeastern villages such as Koblerville, San Roque, and Kagman do not have access to PSS busing. Students in these zones must provide their own transportation to the school.
Another challenge of the school is the building and location. The structure of the building does not have the space needed to accommodate efforts for expansion of the school’s initiatives. When the school opened in 2017, only two office spaces were available. An additional office space was fabricated for the school vice principal. The classrooms are relatively small compared to the average high school classrooms. While maintaining a small student-to-teacher ratio is ideal for an alternative learning setting, bigger classrooms would provide the space for teachers to conduct more activities such as the setting up of activity stations.
The location of the school at MHS campus also creates an issue for the school. Da’ok Academy and Marianas High School students enter the campus from the same entry points. This creates opportunities for students to cross each other’s campuses, which is a major concern considering that truancy and cutting classes are a common factor for most students referred to Da’ok Academy.
Another challenge is the lack of a dedicated Special Education teacher at Da’ok Academy. The school currently has about 31% of its student population with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and are obligated Special Education services. The school is doing its best to fulfill the requirements set by each student’s IEP. Da’ok Academy tries to collaborate with the Special Education teachers of the other high schools to extend their services to the school. However, there is no consistency in the providing of services.
Professional development needs to be provided to the teaching, counseling, and administrative staff at Da’ok Academy to ensure that proper training and support is provided for faculty to grow and expand their skills to provide the best quality of services for students. As a school that works with at-risk youth, training and support particular for alternative education schools is needed for intervention and management in cases of social and emotional problems, substance abuse, bullying, truancy, and other at-risk factors.
Da’ok Academy’s mission is to guide and support at-risk students of grades 9 through 12 in their behavioral, academic, social and emotional foundational skills so that they are career and college ready for life.
As a new high school, the school has strived to offer the same opportunities to its students as the students of the other high schools. For instance, there was an establishment of a Student Council, Cooperative Education, involvement in the Close-Up program, participation the Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math (STEM) Fair, Youth Advisory Panel, Youth Takeover Day, and Youth Conferences on Saipan and Guam.
Da’ok Academy has two Title 1 teachers, one for reading and one for math. These teachers collaborate with the classroom teachers for Language Arts and Math to provide additional support for the students who are performing at the bottom quartile in reading and/or math.
The school worked to collaborate with various agencies, businesses, and community organizations to make presentations of the services and opportunities that they provide.
The school’s facility serves as a support for the students. Students do not transition to their classes outside as the other schools. Instead, students transition to class within the building since the classrooms are connected with a door serving as the entry points for each class with no internal hallway. Therefore, this limits students from any chance to cut class since they are within the building for the entire duration of the day. Another construct is the six-period instructional day. By having six periods in a semester, students are able to take more classes than the other high schools, where they have a four-period instructional day. This setup supports students by providing students an opportunity to earn two additional credits in a semester. Since most of the students at Da’ok Academy are behind in their earned credits for their cohort of peers, these additional credits would allow the students to catch up in their track towards completing their credit requirements for graduation.
Because the school aims to prepare students for college and career for life, an initiative of Da’ok Academy is to extend support to its graduates for at least a year. After graduation, the school will reach out to its graduates to follow up on their goals and to provide support if they are struggling to get started on their goals, whether it is to apply for college, enlist in the military, or find a job.
Notable Achievements and Areas of Improvement
Graduation - On June 1, 2018, Da’ok Academy had its inaugural conferral of diplomas as an official high school to its first six graduates. Previously, students who completed their graduation requirements at Da’ok Academy would receive a diploma from the school where they were referred. Presently, students who complete their graduation requirements at Da’ok Academy will receive a high school diploma from Da’ok Academy. To build credibility, respect, and pride, the school held a celebration for these graduates at its first official graduation as a school.
Community Engagement - Da’ok Academy successfully worked with the CNMI government agencies and individuals to build partnerships to educate students about the resources and opportunities in the community. These include Department of Public Safety, United States Marine Corps, Small Business Development Center, and Northern Marianas College-led presentations around career and education opportunities. For risk behaviors, Da’ok Academy partnered with the CNMI Division of Public Health Services for STD/HIV prevention and family planning presentations, as well as the Commonwealth Cancer Association for a private screening of the documentary “Chew” to educate students about the dangers of chewing betel nut and oral cancer. For cultural education, students engaged in a coconut leaf thatch weaving guided by the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, as well as the revitalization of traditional maritime wayfinding, navigation, and canoe sailing from 500 Sails.
Because of a large interest in emergency and fire management career clusters, Da’ok Academy coordinated with the Department of Fire & Emergency Medical Services to host the “Fire to Inspire” Basketball Tournament where students and staff from Da’ok Academy challenged the firefighters from DFEMS in a friendly competition of basketball. The purpose of this event was to build relationships with the firefighters, who were seen as role models, and to show students that they can aspire for a career in emergency and fire management. Prior to the challenge, DFEMS along with its commissioner conducted a presentation on DFEMS careers, requirements to apply for the Fire Academy, and the expectations of being a firefighter.
Further, Northern Marianas College student mentors under the Project PROA program provided weekly mentoring and tutoring for 11th and 12 grade students in order to demonstrate and encourage students to pursue higher education by way of the local college. Achieve3000 - The students at Da’ok Academy showed growth in reading literacy as measured by Lexile reported by Achieve3000. The pre-assessment results had an average Lexile of 733L. The expected post-assessment Lexile as determined by Achieve3000 was projected to be 795L with the assumption that students would read at least two articles per week. By the post-assessment, results showed an average Lexile of 801L, surpassing the goal. This year marked the first year of implementation of Achieve3000 at Da’ok Academy. The implementation was a success with the program used consistently every week in all English Language Arts classes. The ELA teacher monitored student performance and provided weekly feedback.
As the alternative school for the Public School System, Da’ok Academy has a misperception as a detention center for juveniles, which is a stereotypical image of any alternative education program. Part of this image is attributed from when the school was the Alternative Education Program (AEP). One function of this program was to serve as a site for external suspensions from the Saipan high schools. These suspensions would range from one day up to ten days. The program also served students whose disciplinary actions involved being removed from the main campus for a long term, such as a quarter.
However, the staff has worked arduously to promote Da’ok Academy as a regular high school deserving the same respect at the other high schools. Another misperception of the school is that Da’ok Academy is an equivalent to a General Education Development (GED) program. However, Da’ok Academy is an actual high school that offers the same kind of diploma as the other high schools.