Plan aims to save Boyce Campus Middle College

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A new proposal would keep open the beleaguered Boyce Campus Middle College, an alternative high school program that has teetered on the brink of extinction for the past four years.

The program was created nearly two decades ago after officials in the Woodland Hills, Penn Hills, Gateway and Plum school districts became concerned about dropout rates, said Bob Patterson, director of the alternative program.

Boyce offers smaller class sizes of 10 to 20 students and more counseling options. Mr. Patterson said the majority of the students who attend were on the verge of dropping out because they were being bullied, didn't do well in large classrooms or weren't adjusting socially.

Of the 51 seniors in the program this year, 50 graduated, Mr. Patterson said, and some of those students already have college credits from the Community College of Allegheny County's Boyce Campus, where the program is housed.

The districts that support Boyce Campus Middle College have considered ending participation in the program in the past four years, drawing protests at school board meetings from parents, students and alumni.

Mr. Patterson said the program lost a quarter of its 200 students after Woodland Hills dropped out last year due to budget constraints.

This year, Plum is following in Woodland Hills' footsteps, also citing financial pressure.

But Plum's and Gateway's superintendents said they are working with Penn Hills to keep the program alive. Under the new plan, Penn Hills would run the alternative program and Gateway and Plum could pay tuition to Penn Hills to send their students to it.

Plum superintendent Timothy Glasspool said the reconfigured program has to be approved by the state Department of Education, and he's not sure when that decision will be made. Penn Hills superintendent Thomas Washington could not be reached for comment.

Susan McConnell, whose son, John Carney, will be a junior at Boyce Campus Middle College, said it's the only school that works for him.

John was in regular Penn Hills schools until third grade, she said, when he started failing.

"He's not a bad kid," she said. "You could tell he was trying, but he just couldn't."

She said John has mild dyslexia and a condition called dysgraphia, which is similar to dyslexia but affects an individual's ability to write by hand. For example, when John writes a lowercase "g," the tail is backward, Ms. McConnell said.

She said school was "crazy and chaotic" for him, so she started home schooling him.

"In my kitchen, where it was quiet ... he was perfect," she said. She home-schooled him until his freshman year of high school, when he started taking classes through a cyber charter school.

He struggled in the cyber classes as well. Ms. McConnell said that when she enrolled John in Boyce Campus Middle College for his sophomore year, it was "like magic."

"My son comes home talking about Camus, is on top of world affairs and history, is doing algebra without asking for help and has been on the honor roll or high honor roll," she wrote in an email. "He loves being there. And he is typical of students at BCMC."

education - neigh_east

Annie Siebert: asiebert@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.


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