COCHISE COUNTY — A new accommodation school and district, which will give youth who’ve dropped out of high school another chance at earning a diploma, is getting set to launch soon thanks to efforts by Cochise County Superintendent Jacqui Clay and Outreach Coordinator Ben Reyna.

Clay said that if approved, the school will be categorized as its own district within the county with individuals age 16-21 who’ve been out of school for 30 days or more attending courses online with district curriculum partner Grad Solutions.

“They have to complete one class at a time, they get 30 days to complete that,” said Clay.

Reyna said the need to create an additional accommodation school spurred from recent data released from Expect More Arizona, which shows that 14% of youth age 16-24 in Cochise County are not enrolled in any school or employed. The goal is to have this decline to 7% or less.

“We’re hoping to fill the gap,” said Reyna. “(Students) needed an option that’s from and centered in Cochise County that knew what their specific challenges were.

“We want to provide an opportunity to build their own capacity and to move forward. And hopefully, that helps our schools.”

Clay said students will be able to receive face-to-face supplementary instruction once a week on Fridays in a dedicated learning center with lead teacher Alicia Buckhanan, who’s also the juvenile detention teacher.

The superintendent’s office relocated to Sierra Vista on March 30. The learning center will be located in the same plaza as the superintendent’s new office.

The learning center, located off 4001 E. Foothills Drive, will provide supplementary instruction along with Renya serving as principal and administrative assistant Cindy Morales as the substitute teacher.

“Everyone who is involved is certified by the (Arizona) Department of Education as teachers or administrators,” said Clay. “We’re keeping that high quality for education, it hasn’t gone down just because we’re online.

“The community is going to have to be supportive, since we don’t have a dedicated staff. They all have other jobs. As we receive funding, we’ll be able to hire a staff. ... We have laptops, four computers, we’ll have a smart board and projector. It’s going to be a state-of-the art space in there.”

Reyna said the space will be optimized to provide students with necessary support for learning.

“Everything in that space is intended to give students support, both structural and social-emotional support,” he said.

Clay said the learning center will be a certified testing location for students who want to get their GED. A grand opening is planned May or June.

Clay emphasized the accommodation school’s purpose is to help, not compete, with traditional districts that have students are at risk of dropping out.

“We are not competing with any school,” said Clay. “Our focus is 19- 22-year-olds. We are filling in the gap.”

Clay said if the school district enrolls their at-risk students in the accommodation school, the students are re-classified, helping the students’ status and the school’s overall grade.

“They let us know and we contact the student,” Clay said. “If they enroll that student, they get classified as a transfer student. It helps the schools, the community, we’re trying to give them post-secondary opportunities. If they can complete one class on time, the can attend our program and Cochise College at the same time.”

Clay said incarcerated juveniles are eligible to enroll in the accommodation school.

“We are not only serving our county as a school district, we’re going to be (serving) other students in the state. The students in the jail, their assignment is to give me 15 names (for the accommodation school) and to tell me why,” said Clay.

Clay mentioned some to the name suggestions.

“ ‘New Crossroads Academy,’ ‘New Start Academy,’ ‘The Academy of Hope,’ ‘The Academy of Prosperity,’ ‘Zenith Academy,’ ‘Saving Grace Academy.’ These kids, when I come and visit them, they are serious about their work,” said Clay.

Reyna said the district is awaiting approval from the Arizona Department of Education Finance Department before the school can open.

“ADE has been very supportive of our process,” said Reyna. “There was a lot of institutional learning in this process. They are looking at our application to set a funding avenue for us. Once we have that, essentially everything else will be put into place.”

Clay said it is hoped the new school and district will open for the fall 2021 semester.

“We’re now opening up opportunities for citizens who’ve lost hope in themselves,” said Clay. “Providing them motivation, direction and purpose as a Cochise County resident. ... Sometimes it takes an outside source to remind them that they’re amazing. We want them to live to their potential. ... We’re going to be our students biggest fans.”