Life Academy gives troubled students a second chance

March 12, 2019

BULLHEAD CITY — Sometimes a student will be suspended for a few days but in some cases, students might get expelled for something they did. When a student is in that situation, there are only a handful of choices they have for continuing their education. One of those is to enroll at Life Academy, part of the Colorado River Union High School District.

“Currently, we have six students in third to fifth grade, 15 students in sixth to eighth grade and 10 students from ninth to 12th grade at Life Academy,” said Geoff Tubbs, director of special services.

This is the first year that CRUSHD has implemented Life Academy.

“The reason why we started the program was to continue to work with students who have been suspended or expelled. As opposed to just wiping our hands and letting them figure things out on their own,” said Tubbs. “We also did it because there are some special education students and we are required to provide services.

“In the past, we have done homebound services. We would typically do it during school hours and on school grounds with a special education teacher. In the state of Arizona, you are required to provide a minimum of four hours a week of instruction. What we were finding is that those students weren’t getting better with only four hours of work. Now, we have been able to quadruple the time that we were providing instruction to about 20 hours a week.”

Tubbs said that when Life Academy receives a new student, a plan is developed and a goal is attached to it.

“We look at why they were sent here and then we meet with the student and parent. We try to find out what their short-term and long-term goals are,” said Tubbs. “For the most part, their goal is to get back in regular school with their friends. So then we develop a plan and we work on what got them here, such as anger management. We may have to do searches for drugs and weapons, help them to respect peers and teachers and much more.”

A couple of students have been able to transition back into the regular classroom during Life Academy’s first year of operation.

“Some students, it takes a while for them to realize that we are serious about them completing their goal,” Tubbs said. “For instance, a student at Life Academy was able to rejoin the general population in time for the second semester.”

According to Tubbs, sometimes a student will want to stay at Life Academy rather than return to the classroom.

“We do see the instances where a student will be better off staying here rather than going back to regular school,” said Tubbs. “It’s about finding what environment is working for the student as well.”

Troy Heaton, CRUSHD campus administrator, said that he sees the same thing happening at CRUSHD Academy.

“I have a lot of students who come because of disciplinary hearings, having low credits and other various reasons,” said Heaton. “Once they get here, and they get caught up, they have the opportunity to go back, but some of them choose to stay.”

According to Tubbs, the third- through fifth-grade students at Life Academy still are registered at the schools from which they came. However, the ninth- through 12th-grade students are registered as CRUSHD Academy students so they are taken off the roll at their high school.

“The students still get their services if they need speech therapy or counseling, which we do have a counselor for the younger and older students,” said Tubbs. “That is a very important aspect of the Life Academy program because a lot of these students and family really need mental health intervention.”

Heaton said that next year, CRUHSD will apply for a grant that will provide a full-time therapeutic component and drug education program.

“Right now, all of the school districts have a no-tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol, which results in the student getting 180 days of suspension or expulsion,” said Heaton. “If we get the grant, we will have the first drug and alcohol prevention program, in this area, that will give students therapeutic intervention, drug education classes and drug testing.”

According to both Heaton and Tubbs, substance abuse in the area for students is an ongoing problem.

“It’s very easy for the students to get their hands on marijuana and other drugs,” said Heaton. “They are primarily getting it from relatives and most of the time their relatives aren’t giving it to them but they still find a way to get into it.”

“A big part of Life Academy is to talk to both the student and the family when there’s something that needs to be addressed,” said Tubbs. “Sometimes the student will tell their family one story and us another story. So working together with the family will help us make better progress with the student because we are all on the same page.

“I’ve had many parents saying that they can’t get the help they need so they are thinking of putting their child on marijuana. They don’t have the insurance to get them the mental help they need or they don’t have the means to get the student there. So having a program that can provide a therapeutic component as well as drug education program will be huge for the community.”

Life Academy doesn’t have its own budget but Tubbs hopes that will change.

“We are hoping that we can add a transition component at Life Academy. We’ve run into situations where a student is 18 or about to turn 18 and they’ve only got about five credits (needed for graduation),” said Tubbs. “We are asking them to come in for five hours a day to finish but they don’t. Sometimes, they don’t have a computer at home or can’t get to a local library. So having a transition component will help us teach students work-related skills both on and off the campus so they can at least get a job.”

Results will determine the success of the program, Tubbs said.

“I don’t want to necessarily see it grow but I would like to be successful in helping students understand triggers and how to manage themselves in the school environment as best they can,” he said. “It was very important for us to have a program to continue to work on the academics and behavior of the student, which is what Life Academy is all about.”