Lack Of Funding Could Shut Down Rogers County Program For Suspended Students
ROGERS COUNTY, Oklahoma - A program that keeps students focused on school while they're suspended is in danger of shutting its doors.
State budget cuts could close down a Rogers County program called the U-Turn Academy. Jordan Bowman, now a high school senior, hopes that doesn't happen.
Three years ago, Jordan was a drug addict.
"I got caught with it at school," she said. "It was K2," a synthetic marijuana drug.
Bowman got suspended, which made her worry about her grades - Bowman kept a 4.0 GPA until that point.
When she got to U-Turn, she realized she'd have the chance to keep her grades up.
"It helped mold me pretty much into the person I am today," Bowman said, "because it guided me toward wanting better for myself and shooting for those higher expectations."
Students who come to U-Turn are facing long-term suspensions from their middle or high schools. Instead of staying home or roaming the streets, where they could get into more trouble, they come to the U-Turn Academy, which is housed within the Grand Lake Mental Health Center. The Academy serves all nine school districts in Rogers County.
There, students keep up with school work and receive counseling.
Director John Killebrew personally picks up each of his students' homework from their respective schools.
"It gives them a second chance to get their high school education, which is extremely important in today's society, because there's hardly any place a kid can go without that," Killebrew, a former teacher himself, said.
Studies show 80 percent students who face long-term suspensions will drop out of school completely or engage in delinquent behavior. But U-Turn is flipping that statistic — nearly 80 percent of its students go back to school.
Earlier this year, U-Turn got the news that its three-year grant from the Office of Juvenile Affairs would not be renewed due to state budget cuts.
It's relied on private donations and foundation grants since the start of the school year, said Chris Butler, director of Volunteers for Youth, which oversees U-Turn Academy.
The donations will only hold them over until January.
"After that, we currently have no funding to sustain the program," Butler explained.
U-Turn hopes the community will step up to keep the program running.
Without these programs, explained Killebrew, students are more likely to end up in jail or using social welfare programs — which are funded by taxpayers nonetheless.
And without it, Bowman said, she wouldn't be graduating this spring — with a 4.1 GPA.
"This is an amazing program, and it deserves to be funded, whoever can help," she said, "because I don't know where I'd be without it today."