By Shayda Shevidi
The Mirror Staff
By Woo Han
The Mirror Staff
“We’re the link between community and school,” said Malissa.
A Good Year for a Good Graduation Rate
PEOPLE: A-G Counselors, Malissa Vanegas and Gregory Achen, are interviewed for an in-depth understanding of the graduation requirements
PHOTO BY SHIMLA RAHMAN
With more than 500 seniors roaming the hallways in Van Nuys High School, it’s easy to get lost within all the graduation requirements. But no fear, the A-G Diploma Counselors are here!
The Van Nuys A-G Diploma Program is run by Gregory Achen and Malissa Vanegas. They are both recent graduates: Achen from UCLA and Vanegas from USC. Despite the rivalry between their alma maters, they cohesively work together to implement a very valuable program for Van Nuys.
The A-G Diploma Program is geared towards helping students graduate high school. This program was put into play by LAUSD in hopes of graduating every single high school student in the district. Currently, Van Nuys is well above 70%.
Vanegas and Achen, who goes by Mr. Greg, work with the academic counselors and the Public Services and Attendance Counselor, Ms. Shirley Shamsi, in order to help the students.
“Our job is to make sure that everyone has a plan and path for graduation. Sometimes students are missing their A-G requirements, sometimes they’re behind in credits, and it’s OUR job to help them solve the puzzle,” said Mr. Greg.
They use a three-tier model in their approach. The first and universal part is their current promotion campaign in which they get the word out about their program – whether it be through recurring morning announcements or setting up a booth in the quad during lunch.
The second targeted strategy aims to counsel individual students that are missing three or more A-G requirements.
The final and intensive portion counsels students with more severe graduation disparities, meeting with them at least once a week and helping them get back to where they need to be.
However, they stress that the method of helping students get back on track to graduate is an individual approach. Because every student is different, they have to modify the solutions and identify what works for each of the students. They identify the problems that the student may be facing – from peer conflicts to family matters – and offer the student resources to help with their studies.
They partner with credit recovery programs at Van Nuys High School but also reach out to possible community programs as well. For example, if a student is far behind in their credits at Van Nuys, they have access to Will Rogers Continuation School. They arduously work to find the best particular fit for the student.
One of the unique parts about their job is that they are authorized to go out into the community and do home visits, often talking to the students and their families. They try to identify why the student may not be going to school and find solutions as to how they can help with getting the student back to school.
“We’re the link between community and school,” added Malissa.
“A student’s grade and their attendance record tell a story. When we see a student who is missing a lot of classes, we know there’s a reason for that,” gushed Mr. Greg. “It’s not because they can’t do it, it’s because there’s something else going on in their life.”
“It’s our job to help them resolve that issue as well. We want to make sure you’re safe and well-taken care of.”
When they first started the program, they did an assessment to determine what Van Nuys might most need. Then, they found that Van Nuys is home to a vast population of immigrants.
In addition to trying to catch up with their graduation requirements, many of the immigrants are learning a new language and a new culture. Gregory and Malissa have been very much aware, so they have been visiting all the ELD classes to help acclimate them to the school. Together, they inform the students on the available programs and the accessible help and assistants.
“Many of them come periodically to the school, so it’s a little harder for them to be in class and to navigate with the actual school,” said Malissa.
They have reached success in their classroom visits. After these presentations, they hope to slowly ease these students into finishing the actual graduation requirements.
Gregory and Malissa work well together and are excited to contribute to the ongoing success of their program. With their levels of charisma and expertise, they are set to help Van Nuys get closer to that 100% graduation rate.