2017-10-11 / Front Page

Options Academy offers second chance to students


PRINCIPAL FRANK GARCIA admires a mural painted by a student in a hallway at the Raymondville Options Academic Academy, a school where students can get a second chance to earn a high school diploma. 
(Photo by Allen Essex) PRINCIPAL FRANK GARCIA admires a mural painted by a student in a hallway at the Raymondville Options Academic Academy, a school where students can get a second chance to earn a high school diploma. (Photo by Allen Essex) The old term “high school dropout” is outdated. Now students whose academic career gets derailed due to bad grades, getting married or having a child, needing to work or personal problems at home can get a second chance.

Raymondville Options Academic Academy is that second chance. Frank L. Garcia is the principal of ROAA. He knows what it is like to have setbacks and adversity.

He had an earlier career and everything ended for him when the Texas oil bust occurred in the 1980s. He had to rebuilt his life.

“I was in the gas and oil business for 13 years,” he said. When things went bad, jobs began to disappear quickly. Although he was a manager with a college degree, it was in animal science and his company were only keeping managers who had engineering degrees.

Without a job, he lost his savings, his house, everything. He and his wife had to go home and move in with his parents.

He went back to his alma mater, Texas A&M University at Kingsville, where Dr. Randall Williams advised him to return to college and get qualified as an agriculture teacher. He began teaching at Santa Maria ISD. While there, he earned certifications as a principal and superintendent.

Now as principal of ROAA, where all the academic requirements are the same as at any high school, he is seeing many students succeed, some transferring back to the high school, others receiving their high school diploma at ROAA.

“We’re going into our eighth year,” Garcia said. “The inception of this campus might have been the brainchild of our former superintendent, Johnny I. Pineda. He asked me if I was interested in starting and alternative campus. At the time I was the high school principal.”

At that time, there were problems with the high school graduation rate and administrators were struggling for a solution, Garcia said. They needed another way to help students get a high school diploma. “Mr. Pineda said, ‘You’ve been reassigned to start a campus. It was the 2010-11 school year. We started out small with 10 kids.’”

Now ROAA is located in its own building, in the remodeled former Myra Green Middle School building, near the new Myra Green campus.

He always tells the school board that, because of the problems his students face, with poverty, broken homes and many other challenges teenagers in Raymondville face, he cannot promise a certain number will graduate by the end of the current year. But students do graduate, do pass state-required exams and some go on to technical schools or universities.

One problem that Garcia wants to correct is the community perception that ROAA is a school for dropouts or juvenile delinquents. ROAA is not a disciplinary program or a reform school, Garcia said. “This is not a school for the bad kids.”

When a student graduates from ROAA, employers know they have done their academic work and earned their diplomas, he said.

“In high school, the classes are big, you can’t concentrate,” said Joe Angel Martinez of Raymondville.

Jasmine Salazar said she came directly into ROAA,” Salazar said. “I work better (in a small class). The teacher can help.”

Both Martinez and Salazar said that, at ROAA, they don’t have to worry about gangs or cliques or who is popular or not. All the noise, pep rallies, sports and huge crowds are distractions. At ROAA you can think about the school work, there’s less stress and no pressure to compete with peers.

Students have to apply for admission to ROAA, Garcia said. “This is a school of choice.”

When they begin, a program is designed especially for them to help them work toward graduation, step by step. His staff members all give 100 percent effort to help troubled students get back on track, to earn their credits and graduate, Garcia said.

“We have to build self-esteem because they’ve been unsuccessful for so many years and we have to make them into believers, that they’re very capable of doing better.”

Everyone learns differently and ROAA students work at their own pace, the principal said. Each time a student completes a course, that is a victory.

He believes in positive reinforcement and students are honored with a wall display when they receive an award.

Some students are doing better with their lessons because it is a quieter environment with small class sizes, others have family responsibilities now, he said. They may go to school half a day and work half a day. Each has their own set of circumstances.

Students get respect, but they earn it, Garcia said. They learn the importance of being on time to school and how important that will be when they get a job. When they promise to complete school assignments on time and keep their promises and commitments, they learn that will be even more important when they go to work in the real economy, the principal said.

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