NCLR Affiliate Spotlight: GOAL Academy Shows How to Help Disenfranchised Youth Succeed

By David Castillo, Digital Content Manager, NCLR

The definition of an “alternative” school, as most understand it, is hard to ascribe to G.O.A.L. Academy, our October NCLR Affiliate Spotlight. GOAL was the result of an effort to create a different educational experience for the high number of disenfranchised, out-of-school youth that school administrators saw in their community.

In Colorado, that ends up looking like an alternative education campus—where disenfranchised youth often get sent, but school officials say it’s really just a school with a specialty mission.


GOAL Academy at the Colorado State Fair. Photo: GOAL Academy

While administrators may see GOAL as something other than a traditional alternative school, the reality is that the talented team that comprises the staff has created an alternative, and it’s a model other states are eager to replicate.

GOAL is a “blended learning” school that with an online curriculum and over 30 physical locations throughout the state. Founded in 2009, they started with fewer than 100 students. Today, enrollment is expected to be close to 4,000 students all across Colorado. GOAL Academy is among the largest charter schools in the state.

GOAL offers a chance for its students, 95 percent of whom are considered “at-risk,” to thrive and excel despite being failed by an education system that is struggling to adequately serve minority communities.

In Colorado, between 14,000 and 18,000 students drop out of school every year. GOAL’s mission is to get as many of these students back into the school system as possible and to ensure they succeed.


Photo: GOAL Academy

When it was founded, school leaders set out on a five-year plan to make sure all their graduating students did so with college credit, workforce-ready certification, or both. They have achieved above and beyond that objective, last year graduating more than 800 students, many of them with college credit.

A defining feature of GOAL’s approach is how they set up their students for success. First, students have complete flexibility when it comes to their schedules. School officials credit this flexibility as one of the keys to their success. They work with students with full-time jobs, single mothers, and other students who are often balancing a difficult home life with their goal to finish high school and graduate.

“We want to make sure we’re serving the whole student,” said Janelle Quick, director of marketing and communications. “Kids are facing harder challenges than ever before. Our system is conducive to everyone’s learning style.”

Also, in addition to their teachers, all students are assigned a “life coach”—another element of their success, says Quick.

Quick and the rest of the GOAL Academy administration believe the school has a responsibility to students’ non-academic needs as well. Whether that’s hunger, housing, personal relationships, social well-being, or medical well-being, life coaches are there to care for their students and they meet with them frequently.


A GOAL Academy student at a National Honors Society induction. Photo: GOAL Academy

To meet their aim of helping kids prepare for college and beyond, many students participate in the school’s robust Concurrent Enrollment (Early College) program. GOAL Academy has working relationships with over 20 Colorado two- and four-year colleges, universities, and technical schools. This is key for school leaders, as many of their students have never considered that college is an option.

“We don’t do AP or honors courses; we put them in the college environment to show them what it’s like,” said Quick. “To put them in that environment gives them a taste of it and they get the bug.”

Quick explains that when students take AP or honors courses, they’re still taking them in the high school setting, which is not exactly realistic for preparing for college the way immersion in a college course is.

GOAL Academy’s individualized, flexible approach has yielded tremendous results. New state data shows that at the college level, GOAL graduates are outperforming their peers from “traditional” schools.

“We do know that the traditional students going into the junior college are not performing as well as the kids that we’re sending to take college coursework,” said Quick. “For a regular student entering junior college, they’re performing at half the rate ours do.”


GOAL Academy students treading Goblin Valley, Colo. Photo: GOAL Academy

Combined with the recent acquisition of a 300-plus acre campus that the school is using to advance its outdoor experiential learning and career and technical education programming, GOAL Academy is showing the world that education can be delivered in new and more thoughtful ways that benefit all students.

GOAL Academy is truly an excellent example of the power of the NCLR Affiliate Network. We look forward to seeing them grow in the years to come.

See the Winners of the 2015 NCLR Affiliate Photo Contest

The winner of our annual NCLR Affiliate Photo Contest has been announced! Every year, NCLR selects photo entries from nearly 300 community-based organizations that make up the NCLR Affiliate Network. The contest allows us to celebrate and highlight the work from these valuable community assets. This year’s contest highlights but a few of the the many lives our Affiliates have touched over this past year.

Check out the slide show below for this 2015 honorable mentions and the winner.

(Click photos to enlarge)


Un Verano En Nueva York

By Rafael Collazo, Director of Political Campaigns, NCLR

40x504_commoncore_72aThe seminal Puerto Rican salsa band El Gran Combo sang it best: there is nothing quite like “Un Verano En Nueva York.”Even a hardscrabble Philly guy like me has to admit that a unique energy permeates the Manhattan streets during the summer.

So it was with great pleasure that I visited Spanish Harlem in New York City to document the opinions of leaders who are on the frontlines of preparing our young people for higher education and the future job market.

The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is heavily engaged in the ongoing national debate on the benefits of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). For many that are still unclear about what the Common Core are, skepticism is spreading amongst parents and some educators due to a lack of information, and even misinformation. They wonder if the CCSS are another fad that is steering national public education off course and disrupting the progress of Latino and minority students.

GraduationWhile NCLR understands these concerns and is working to advocate for improved implementation, NCLR firmly believes that Latino students can only achieve education equity when all schools and school districts are held to the same standards of achievement, instruction, and assessment that the CCSS demand. In fact, NCLR has already discovered Latino educators committed to the Common Core State Standards for the benefit of students.

Amber Charter School, an NCLR Affiliate, is a K–5 school located in the heart of “El Barrio” in New York City. Since 2011, Principal Dr. Vashti Acosta has been preparing to align her school with the new rigorous standards of achievement that are now in 43 states and the District of Columbia. With careful planning from administrators, teachers, and parents, Amber Charter School is a model of how Latino and minority children can Step Up and Step In to higher achievement.

When NCLR spoke to Dr. Acosta about our New York Campaign to make Latinos more aware of what the CCSS entail and how they will benefit Latino youth, Dr. Acosta immediately recommended that we connect with students and teachers to hear their stories of how the CCSS have impacted their school year.

So NCLR staff paid a visit to Amber Charter School to tape video interviews (watch below) with Dr. Acosta, her teachers, and her kids to hear about their year with the CCSS. From the moment we started filming, it was clear how integral these standards have been in helping the entire school “Step Up.” Seasoned educators raved about how these standards accelerated learning, thinking, and communication for all students. The students themselves said it best: “My favorite word this year was ‘whimsical,’” said Nina, a fourth grader at Amber. Another student, Anthony, stated how what he is learning will help him “mature into the adult” he wants to be.

The buzz in Spanish Harlem a few days before the National Puerto Rican Day Parade made our visit even more inspiring. NCLR staff also interviewed Latino immigrant parents at the Annual English Language Learner Parent Conference held at the nearby Museo Del Barrio. The parents, primarily Mexican, shared the importance of education for their children and all Latinos, with the backdrop of some amazing artwork by top Latino artists from all over the world.

Commitment, inspiration, creativity, hope, warmth… all words I can use to describe our time in New York. After all these years, Un Verano En Nueva York is still something special.

This Week in Immigration Reform – Week Ending May 30


Week Ending May 30, 2014

This week in immigration reform: Latino leaders unveil score cards evaluating all 435 Representatives, President Obama asks Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to delay announcement of findings from review of immigration enforcement policies until the end of the summer; the House adopts an anti-immigrant amendment to the CJS appropriations bill; Rep. Gutierrez along with other members supportive of immigration reform hold a press conference calling on the House Republican leadership to address reform now.

–Latino Organizations issue National Immigration Score Cards to House members. Last WednesdayNCLR, Mi Familia Vota, LCLAA, LULAC, Voto Latino, and the Hispanic Federationreleased preliminary score card ratings for all 435 House members. A final National Immigration Score Card will be issued in the summer and the results will be delivered to Latino communities and other interested parties across the U.S. House members also received a letter notifying them that they can improve their scores before the final score card is released by passing immigration reform with an earned path to citizenship. The score card ratings to date are based on immigration related House votes that have been taken during the 113th Congress. The failure of House leaders to call for a floor vote on comprehensive immigration reform has brought down the scores of many members. You can help us hold your representatives accountable by tweeting at them using the hashtag #CIRScores or you can use the following suggested tweets: Time is running out! @HouseGOP Leadership have until Summer to act on #immigrationreform to improve their #CIRScores; Join us in demanding House members to act on #immigrationreform; Too many families are torn apart each day #CIRScores. You can also call your Representative to say that you want a vote on immigration reform.

–President Obama asks Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to delay review of immigration enforcement policies until the end of summer. On Tuesday, senior White House officials said President Obama was looking to give Representatives space to pass immigration reform by delaying the release of Jeh Johnson’s review of current enforcement policies. While the Department of Homeland security will continue working on the review, the results will be delayed in order to encourage House Republicans to implement a permanent solution to the immigration crisis in the next coming months.  

–The House adopts Rep. King’s (R-Iowa) anti-immigrant amendment to the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill. On Thursday, Rep. King’s amendment to dedicate $5 million of the Department of Justice funds to investigate the use of discretion by the Department of Homeland Security passed the House by a 218-193 vote. While the House has blocked votes for a comprehensive immigration reform, the ENLIST amendment, and other smaller immigration measures, they have chosen to allow votes on two of Rep. Steve King’s anti-immigrant amendments.

–Rep Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) calls press conference to pressure House Republicans to act on immigration. This Friday, Rep. Gutierrez along with other House Democrats, held a press conference outside the House triangle calling on his Republican colleagues to act on immigration reform. As the days before the August recess dwindle away, the days left to allow a vote on comprehensive immigration reform are counting down. Imm_ReformUpdate_5_30_2014

NCLR and affiliates in action.

  • California: NCLR Affiliate TODEC hosted a rally with Reps. Gutierrez and Takano (D-Calif.) to end deportations and pass comprehensive immigration reform.ImmReform_Update_5_30_2014_PIC2


SB 1070 Taken Down Yet Another Notch

SCOTUS_picEarlier this week, the Supreme court dealt another blow to supporters of the infamous anti-immigrant SB 1070 law. The court declined to review a specific provision of SB 1070 that would have made it illegal to transport or harbor undocumented immigrants. That provision had already been blocked by the U.S. District court in Phoenix and an injunction was later upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Were it not for the tireless work of our Arizona Affiliates, this case might still be making its way through the courts. The case was led by our Affiliates in Arizona, with Valle del Sol listed as the lead plaintiff.

NCLR President and CEO, Janet Murguía, applauded the court’s decision in the statement below.

“The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold this injunction unequivocally affirms what we have known to be true since this law was passed in 2010: SB 1070 is an unconstitutional infringement on the civil rights of all Arizonans. This legislation is a reckless attempt to make racial profiling and discrimination the law of the land in Arizona, tarnishing the state’s reputation and needlessly costing millions of dollars to defend it in the courts. We applaud the efforts of our Affiliates in Arizona, including the lead plaintiff in this court case, Valle del Sol, and the supporting plaintiff, Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, as well as our allies throughout the state. They have all tirelessly pushed back against this legislation in order to ensure that all Arizonans, especially Latinos, are treated by law enforcement fairly, with dignity and respect.”