Flipping the Narrative
Krystal Scroggins has become accustomed to that funny look when she tells people she works at Rockford’s Roosevelt Community Education Center. “Isn’t that where the bad kids go?” they ask. For the past several years, Scroggins and her nearly 600 students have been turning that idea upside down.
Graduation rate has grown 32 percent over the past three years. Student attendance has jumped; credits earned have doubled; literacy gains have grown by 125%. Students rate their engagement and teacher-student relationships at the highest levels.
Behind the scenes, Scoggins has been a quiet force in Roosevelt’s turnaround. As an Academies coach and project-based instructor, she’s taking students who’ve struggled in traditional schools and redefining the way they learn.
“If you were to look at the past history of some of the kids who’ve been in my room, you’re going to see students who might have had a negative experience or outlook on school in the past,” she says. “They just get a clean slate walking in our door.”
In this largely self-directed educational setting, students are provided hands-on assignments that apply classroom work in real-world situations. Scroggins is developing a makerspace for students and leading a Precious Plastics-style initiative where they’ll turn discarded plastics into 3-D printing filament – which then becomes part of a new project.
On a deeper level, though, her work is empowering students to take charge of their futures. No longer is the focus merely on graduation. It’s about success beyond school.
“They’re so different from the day they enter the building to the day they graduate,” says Scroggins. “They’ve grown so much just beyond the academic standards.”
Ask her students, and they’ll tell you their own stories of self-discovery. “Krystal opened me up to the idea that there are a lot more options than I was thinking,” says one student.
Scroggins first fell in love with so-called “alternative education” when she was an undergrad at Illinois State University. Out of school, the Rochelle native landed a job teaching English at Roosevelt and hasn’t looked back in 15 years. Her school is now a highly sought-after building among Rockford teachers. “I can’t imagine not walking through these doors,” she says.