California Preparatory Academy gives students flexibility in earning their degree

At the California Preparatory Academy students will find a plethora of paths to graduation.

That flexibility allows for success for many students who aren’t thriving in a traditional high school, from star athletes and actors to students who work best in non-traditional class settings to those with full-time jobs that conflict with class times.

“Basically, if your student needs a flexible schedule, this is the way to infuse flexibility and choice into their education,” said Principal Jolene Dougherty, who’s been at the school for five years.

California Preparatory Academy (also known as Cal Prep) allows high schoolers to take classes through independent study and online, with some in-person exams at the San Juan Capistrano campus.

California Preparatory Academy students during graduation ceremonies in June 2019.

“Every graduating class we’ve had, 100 percent have graduated,” Dougherty said. “We typically have 60 to 70 graduates every year.”

Students from all Capistrano Unified School District high schools can enroll at Cal Prep, Dougherty said. Cal Prep students can continue to participate in sports, clubs, or classes at their high school of origin, and in some cases, at local community colleges and universities. A newly created program allows high schoolers to take one class at Cal Prep while completing the rest of their classes at their traditional CUSD high school.

The alternative school offers Advanced Placement and honors classes in addition to college prep, career/technical, and elective classes.

“We can help every child be successful,” Dougherty said. “We can personalize their education.”

California Preparatory Academy staff gather for a photo on graduation day in June 2019.

Because the school is so small, the students, teachers, counselors and others work closely together to ensure student success.

“Really, this is like a family that you’ve joined when you come to our school,” Dougherty said. “We know them by name, so when they walk in the door, they’re not a stranger.”

The school currently has about 350 students enrolled.

“They get to work at their own pace,” Dougherty said. When students log online they see the due dates for homework and projects ahead of time, so they can plan accordingly. “Say you want to go on a trip for a week. You can get your work done ahead.”

California Preparatory Academy students are honored in front of their friends and families on graduation day in June 2019.

Because students do their work online, they have a time-management learning advantage in that the educational portal tracks how long each assignment takes, Dougherty said, so students understand how much time they need for future assignments.

“It’s a little more motivational too, because they own their learning and they can manage their time better,” Dougherty said. “Say writing is difficult for them. They might want to put more time into their writing.”

“It’s not based on the time you put in, it’s based on completion of work,” she continued. “If math comes easy to you and you get your assignment done in 10 minutes, that’s fine.”

This adaptable form of education is gaining in popularity, and Cal Prep is seeing growth in the number of students added to the waitlist over the past couple years.

“We have so many parents that tell us at the end of the year, ‘You changed my child’s life. My child would not have been able to graduate if it hadn’t been for you,’” Dougherty said.

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