At Settlement Home, students always start and end their classroom sessions on a good note.
“The teachers provide a very welcoming environment,” says Tonya King, associate principal of the UT-University Charter School (UT-UCS) located within the facility. “They give students the opportunity to share one good thing about their day at the start or toward the end of every class.”
The homelike atmosphere can be therapeutic for the students who are currently in the care of Child Protective Services. The Austin-based residential treatment facility is a temporary home for 37 young women (grades 7-12), half of whom require special education services. Students are placed in small classroom settings and regularly meet with an academic transition counselor who works alongside their teachers and therapists on individualized academic plans.
As part of its mission, the school works to create safe environments and hold high expectations for both students and teachers. UT-UCS Executive Principal Holly Engelman says she can see the teachers’ impact when students are fully engaged in the classroom.
“It’s so rewarding when you see the light that goes on when they have that ‘aha moment,’” Engelman says. “When they start realizing their potential, we tell them, ‘Yes you can do this—and you can finish school and succeed in life.’”
Among the school’s many resources, students have access to field trips, tutorial sessions, special interest clubs—from running to yoga to dance. They can also participate in extracurricular sports such as ultimate frisbee and kickball. Many of these enriching activities are made possible by the school’s generous community of volunteers. Many volunteers work in committees to support various programs and organize fundraisers such as the big garage sale that happens at the Palmer Event Center every year.
“We are so thankful for the hundreds of volunteers who are so dedicated and organized,” Engleman says.
Surrounded by supportive volunteers, faculty and staff, the students quickly learn that their achievements—both large and small—will be recognized and celebrated. The goal, Engleman says, is to keep them motivated and on the path to graduation. And when that day comes, students have their own cap-and-gown ceremonies.
“Each student gets to give a speech at their individualized graduation ceremony,” Engleman says. “They get the flowers, the balloons, the music—they even get to choose a teacher to give a keynote speech.”
After graduation, the Settlement Home facility provides transitional housing options for those who aren’t quite ready to live independently. Engleman says it’s especially rewarding when former students return to the school to give motivational talks.
“It’s really helpful when our graduates come back to encourage students to take advantage of the resources we have to offer,” Engleman says. “It’s good for the girls to hear from someone their own age about why they need to start thinking about their future.”