Ann Abajian, a representative of Learn4Life, interviewed with OW to discuss the importance of the program, its impact, and how teachers and students have been affected by the pandemic and teacher shortage.
Q: What is Learn4Life?
A: Learn4Life is a network of nonprofit public schools that provides students with personalized learning, career training, and life skills.
Q: Which students do you serve?
A: We are a network of public schools with more than 80 locations throughout CA, from San Diego to Sacramento — each locally controlled.
Our students meet weekly, one-on-one with their teachers to review lessons together, work on assignments and take tests. They can complete the work on their own time at school or home. Tutors, labs, and small group instruction are available at no cost for any additional support students may need. The curriculum is rigorous, and they must earn credits toward a diploma like in traditional high school, but we offer layers of personalized support every step of the way.
Q: What kind of impact has Learn4Life made on their students?
A: Most students have been out of school for 80-plus days when they enroll with us. They have dropped out and are disengaged in their education. More than 80% are socio-economically disadvantaged; 17% are students with disabilities, are pregnant/parenting, in the foster system, experiencing homelessness, or facing other challenges.
For many students, our school is their last chance for high school education.
On average, students enroll at age 16, are 55 credits or a year behind their peers, reading at a sixth-grade level and a fifth-grade level in math.
After just eight and a half months in our program, our students achieve more than a year of growth in math and reading while earning credits toward a high school diploma. We have a 90% success rate with students either graduating, continuing in our program, or transferring to another school to graduate.
Q: Why are kids opting to work rather than go to school?
A: Inflation isn’t just changing our behavior at the gas pump and grocery store. More teens are working now than before the 2008 financial crisis. Many are just trying to help their families make ends meet. We are seeing more of our students needing to work, so the flexibility of our program is critical for students.
Q: What demographics are affected most by this trend?
A: We’ve seen a rise among our entire student population, those from lower-income households and rural areas suffer even more because they have fewer options for an education that doesn’t require them to go to school eight hours a day/five days a week. That’s why our model is built around the students and is so successful.
Q: Do you think the teacher drought plays a role?
A: The teacher shortage is a critical problem. The pandemic put unprecedented stress on teachers and students. We see in nursing many teachers decided to leave the profession. Teachers need more support and more manageable caseloads of students. That’s why at Learn4Life, teachers are responsible for 32-35 students, compared to 150-180 at traditional schools. This allows teachers to understand each student’s learning style, needs, and challenges. It also allows the teacher to feel that their efforts impact the student.
Finally, Learn4Life has a Wellness Team to serve employees and teachers with tips, videos, webinars, and live video visits on topics such as emotional self-care, exercise, mindfulness, nutrition, healthy habits, and more.
Q: What can parents and teachers do to keep kids in school?
A: The pandemic exposed the shortcomings of a one-size-fits-all education system. Education is a right, not a privilege, and we need to give students the tools they need to succeed, which is different for every student. Parents can consider whether independent study programs are a better fit for their children.
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