Staff Profile: Darina Stover – Ensuring the Success of Students at Every Level
“This job is fulfilling because you’re making a difference, on a daily basis, to students who need to re-engage in their education and school in general.” Those are the words of Darina Stover, Academic Coordinator at Phoenix Academy, a program partnering with the School District of Lancaster to offer an Accelerated and Credit Recovery Program to advance the education and graduation of over-age, under-credited students.
This is Ms. Stover’s tenth year with Camelot; her first six years were spent at Buehrle Academy, a program also in partnership with the School District of Lancaster, which serves students in grades 4-12 who have been referred to Camelot or removed from their home campus due to disciplinary violations.
“Our students need that one-on-one connection,” she says. “Sometimes they just need to be cared about and need staff and teachers to care if they’re walking out of a classroom, or care if they’re not coming to school every day, or care if they’re not passing every class. So this job involves getting to know the student more and being involved more closely in their lives and academic careers. We’re able to see them come in at one level and then excel and move to other levels.”
As Academic Coordinator, Stover assists students in understanding their class credits and ensuring their schedule aligns with their academic needs – helping keep them on track for grade promotion and graduation. She is also responsible for assessments and testing at both the middle and high school levels, including English as a Second Language students.
Most students referred to Phoenix Academy, a recognized magnet high school, are a grade or two behind their peer group, which means they have some catching up to do, academically. Phoenix’s goal is two-pronged: catch students up on their credits and also make sure that their reading and math levels are improving. Camelot’s data shows a typical student grows by an average of at least two grade levels in reading and math for each year they attend a Camelot accelerated program.
Phoenix follows the same curriculum and assessment calendar as the School District of Lancaster, but students complete each course in half a year instead of a whole year.
With Phoenix’s block scheduling, students attend 80-minute classes compared to the 40-minutes students receive at a mainstream high school. While students complete the course in half a year, they are still covering the same material as a full-year schedule. This allows students to academically catch up to their graduation cohort faster.
“Sitting through an 80-minute class is a struggle for a lot of students,” Stover notes. “That’s why it is so important to build a relationship with each student to determine how best to reach him or her. It might mean breaking up the lesson into chunks or having hands-on activities so they’re not just sitting still the whole time. We have discussions in small groups, and if they need to step out and talk to somebody, that’s an option for students who are struggling with the length of the class.”
Teachers at the Phoenix Academy hold their students to high standards. Each student is expected to maintain an 80% attendance rate, pass all of their classes, and become a mentor to other students on campus – something that is achieved when a student earns their in student government.
As a student moves closer to graduation, staff at Phoenix Academy prepare them for post-secondary success by assisting them with college, career, or military applications as well as showing them how to apply for scholarships and grants.
“To get our students excited for opportunities after high school, we have college and career activities throughout the year in partnership with local agencies and post-secondary institutions. Our partners come in and work with students to help them with their graduation portfolios and to give them an idea of the possibilities beyond Phoenix,” Stover says.
Stover says Phoenix Academy staff members look at students differently than other schools.
“We don’t just look at them academically or just look at their attendance or behavior. We take everything into consideration to help them be successful.”
Every year Phoenix Academy teachers participate in a book study as a staff. This year the book was Fostering Resilient Learners, by Kristin Souers and Pete Hall. This book talks about educating students who have experienced trauma in their lives, how trauma affects their minds, and how educators need to take different approaches and have a different understanding of the backgrounds of their students.
“The book has been really great for our staff this year. We always look at our students holistically, but team workshops like this help us reinforce which strategies are going to help them be successful in the classroom and outside of school as well.”
Stover, a graduate of Millersville University, chose Camelot early in her career, and like so many of her colleagues, believes in the mission.
“I love what I do. I’m very happy with my career commitment and believe strongly in our philosophy of constant engagement with our students.”