One of the positives of a large district like , is its capacity to address a wide range of student needs and learning abilities.
rivals some college campuses with its size and offerings, but the district recognizes that the school is not for every student. Even with the wide variety of classes and experiences, some students aren't able to thrive in what can be an overwhelming environment.
In response, Greenwich Public Schools offers options for these students to receive their education in a smaller and, in some ways, a more supportive environment. and CLP (Community Learning Program) are unique programs embedded within Greenwich Public Schools which provide a small group of students with a more focused and intimate environment that seeks to let them reach their potential.
While Greenwich is obviously proud of Anthony Mullen, the National Teacher of the Year in 2009, few understand the unique program where Mullen teaches. ARCH, and its related program, CLP, offer GHS students a school within a school, giving them opportunities and support which they may not be able to receive in an environment as large as GHS.
The Arch School Program is an " alternative education program" within the District specifically "designed to accommodate each student’s needs through a highly individualized instructional program, an intensive level of mental health support, and a clearly defined behavior management system," according to the Greenwich Public School website.
The students that are enrolled in Arch are secondary students (grades 9-12) who require this extra support during the day. Instead of the system failing them, the system is accommodating their needs. These needs may include special education support and services as the program is designed to accommodate each student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) which seeks to identify a student's particular needs and then develop a multi-faceted plan to help them achieve success educationally, emotionally and socially.
The Arch School program is focused on a small group of students whose needs are best met in this environment. Per the GPS website; "on average, the program services 25 students at any given time, however up to 30-45 students will take part in the program at various times during the year." Of course, there is alignment with GPS graduation requirements and Arch graduates "10 -15 of their students annually and half of them will move on to post-secondary education."
Other than the size of its enrollment, Arch provides an unique academic and social environment to both the teachers and the students. Mullen states that he and his colleagues "have a great sense of pride in their work" and in particular for the "positive relationships that develop between students and staff." The size of the school's population really allows the staff the ability "to work closely with each student in a controlled and yet comfortable learning environment."
All educators strive to make a positive impact; Mullen says that the difference at Arch is that the "school allows us to watch a student who was in crisis at another school succeed." Mullen even describes Arch as "a sanctuuary for suffering students."
The learning and positive impact seems to flow both ways where the teachers at Arch are rewarded as well. Mullen says that it is "not unusual to receive a student who, in their own words, 'hates school' and threatens to drop out." The Arch teachers inspire the students in crisis; "there is no greater pleasure to grab hold of these students and remind them that they have a purpose in life. It's rewarding to watch these students mature and graduate and become productive citizens of our community."
During Mullen's comments offered in the Rose Garden of the White House at the National Teacher of the Year ceremony, he spoke of the "unique and intriguing story" of his students. He described that often these students feel "disconnected" from school, friends and family and that an environment like Arch "colorizes their black and white worlds."
Back in the fall of 2010, there were discussions of combining the two programs under one roof. The district was actively looking to identify a location within Town to accomodate the two programs. Arch has been located in its current location on East Elm Street, which is owned by the district, since 2007. However, the program has outgrown the size of the building. CLP is in leased space at in Byram.
The District thought it had identified that space in Riverside at . However, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Freund said that they are still negotiating with the Diocese of Bridgeport in terms of leasing space at St. Catherine's; "there are a couple of sticking points we need to negotiate," Freund said. A meeting was held last week between the district and the diocese, but Freund said an agreement still has not been reached. It's not known how the lack of an agreement will impact the start of classes, which will begin at the end of August.
Regardless of where the program is physically located, the unique nature of Arch School will continue to successfully help a special group of students navigate their way through high school and into a brighter future than what they may have otherwise faced. As Mullen described, it helps ensure that when their high school stories are written, their endings will be happy ones.
An imperative component to their stories is the support they receive. As Mullen states, "The ARCH School needs the support of the district and community to succeed. Our school has been moved several times over the past few years, and in each case to a small building that cannot address the academic needs of our students. I often wonder how much more successful we could be if we only had a proper school facility."