Position: Physical Education Teacher
School: Sonora High School
School District: Fullerton Joint Union High School District
City, State: La Habra, CA
Cory Witt was nominated by a member of the community, Hawley Woods.
Mr. Witt and his team at Sonora High School in the Fullerton Joint Union High School District put together an amazing program for at-risk youth that is very successful and potentially a model for other schools. This program is called "iPaTh (Individual, Pathway Academic Thinkers), and it was initiated by a former principal, John Oldenberg. Dr. Adam Bailey, Sonora's current principal, has made iPaTh thrive. iPaTh was created when staff noticed students entering high school who weren't engaged with their classes. The staff wanted to figure out how to make those students successful and see the value in education.
iPaTh has been running for seven years. The goal of the program is to have every student that participates in iPaTh graduate from high school and attend some form of higher education (college, military, trade school, etc). Currently, the success rate of this program is 100% for students who stay at Sonora throughout their four years of high school.
iPaTH identifies kids in middle school - specifically, eighth graders from the feeder middle schools. Mr. Witt and his team work with teachers and counselors at the feeder middle schools to identify the kids that are the most likely to struggle in high school. By 8th grade, most of the signs are in place: falling or failing grades, poor attitudes and behavior, etc. Once the students have been identified (up to 120 students), they are invited to attend a summer bridge program, similar to an educational/motivational boot camp. They focus on English, Math and Writing skills, but Mr. Witt and his team work with the kids to give them so much more than academics. They help them develop an attitude for success and what it takes to be successful in high school.
The biggest win for iPaTH is that it gives students a place to belong and connect with one another. It teaches them that in high school, they are essentially starting over and becoming a whole new person on campus. Mr. Witt and his fellow iPaTH teachers, Howard Medrano and Joe D'Amelia, show students the value of an education and that school can be fun and engaging. A typical new school year will start with 90 students in the iPaTH program. If the kids are able to get plugged into another avenue to the school (e.g, a club, sport) at the end of freshman year, they can opt out of the program. However, those students are still monitored, and Mr. Witt and his team can see the impact they are having on the students that stay within the iPaTH program.
Another innovative component about this program is the classrooms. The teachers have turned their classrooms into a learning "Garage," with kid-friendly decorations like an amazing graffiti mural.
"When I asked Cory about the success stories from iPaTh, he said 'every student that graduates.'" said Woods. "He also shared a story of a girl who graduated high school as a mother of two. That doesn't happen in the general population of high school students. Dropout rates are especially high for girls that become mothers."
"The way I found out about this program was while I was doing a staff luncheon at Sonora. I had some chips left over, and Cory asked if I would like to donate those chips to his program. Of course, I said yes and wanted more information," said Woods. "As I learned more about this program, I continued to want to give, because I saw the tremendous help this program gives to the students who need support the most."
Mr. Witt and his team exemplify the criteria for LifeChanger of the Year. They certainly are changing students lives daily. Additionally, their success rate, more funding and exposure could take this program beyond Fullerton Joint Union High School District and allow them to work with other teachers with a passion for helping struggling students.