For Michael Rocco, principal of Philadelphia Learning Academy South, working to improve the lives of troubled youth is an ordinary day.
Although he’s been working for the School District of Philadelphia for 31 years, Rocco has never witnessed secondary education like that at PLAS. Located at 43rd and Westminster Avenue, the academy focuses on goal-setting and life strategies for some 240 students – all of whom were expelled or suspended from previous institutions. The program, designed by alternative education assistant superintendent Benjamin J. Wright, is meant to instill real, attainable goals in the lives of the kids.
Among the programs at PLAS are PLPs, or Personalized Learning Plans. Each student’s custom plan entails instruction, social and emotional goals, attendance goals and post-graduation goals. What makes these plans truly special are the lengths at which PLAS educators are willing to go. Rocco himself spends most mornings making wake-up calls to students who need them.
“We do whatever it takes,” he said.
Other strategies include monthly reviews of PLPs, relatable teaching methods, and, perhaps most importantly, open communication with students.
“They trust you. They come and speak with you and work things out. Dialogue goes on all day,” said Rocco.
One hundred percent of last year’s senior class graduated, all of whom were accepted to college or have since joined the workforce. Whether it’s having a listening ear or the active goal-setting, the methods at PLAS seem to make for positive reinforcements in the students’ lives.