Downtown Continuation High School (DHS) is one of two continuation schools in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) dedicated to serving students whose success has been limited in the district’s comprehensive and charter high schools. The school, located in a residential section of the Potrero Hill District for the past ten years, offers a small, personalized environment and a staff dedicated to serving students with a variety of needs, ability levels, academic talents, deficiencies, and aspirations. Furthermore, as a continuation school that is permitted to calculate units toward graduation based upon hours of study, we are able to offer more credits per semester than a comprehensive high school. All of these characteristics enable us to offer a viable alternative to struggling students throughout the SFUSD.
A majority of DHS students are referred by the Pupil Services Department due to habitual truancy and/or because they lack sufficient credits to graduate on time. Student assignments to DHS also include disciplinary or safety issues that necessitate a transfer. All of the students at DHS have been placed with us because they have been largely unable to fulfill the expectations of their former high schools. DHS represents a second chance for students to succeed and, often, their last chance to graduate from high school. It is our job to meet the needs of these severely at-risk students by offering an educational experience that enables them to re-engage with school, find meaning in learning, achieve academic success, and graduate.
DHS utilizes a schoolwide project-based model as our primary instructional delivery system. In pairs, DHS teachers are responsible for developing interdisciplinary, thematic, project-based units that are semester-long and self-contained; students participate in one project all day, every day, for a semester at a time. This semester, for example, students were able to choose from projects focusing on such topics as the environment, music, food, sports, and acting. Projects integrate language arts, social studies, science, math, and one elective such as art, music, or drama so that students have the opportunity to fulfill necessary graduation requirements.
It is our belief that, in order for our particular student population to succeed, we must challenge each student to grow academically, while at the same time caring for every individual’s emotional well-being. We have found that our integrated, project-based curriculum in small, closely-knit learning communities—with an emphasis on real-world connections, hands-on activities, and relevant field experiences—yields increased attendance and facilitates improved academic success.