Introducing Compassion Road Academy

At Shift Workspaces, philanthropy is a key part of our community values. This month, we had the privilege of interviewing Vicky and Phil at Compassion Road Academy. This conversation helped us better understand their needs, their mission, and reinforced the importance of giving back to our local community. Through these efforts, we aim to contribute to a compassionate and supportive environment, highlighting the positive impact that thoughtful contributions can have on others, especially our neighbors.  


Hi Vicky and Phil! Tell us a bit about your roles within Compassion Road Academy? 

Vicky: As the Principal entering her second year, Vicky was initially drawn to Compassion Road Academy’s vision, particularly its emphasis on mental health support for students. Coming from her previous school, where she witnessed a critical need for such support, she felt compelled to build personal connections with students. Here, CRA intervenes much earlier—unlike her previous experience, where it often took over 30 missed periods for intervention efforts to begin. Vicky thought to herself, I need to be someplace where its manageable to put interventions in. 

Phil: Phil serves as the Assistant Principal, focusing primarily on student attendance and fostering a positive school culture. His journey at CRA began eleven years ago as a Social Studies teacher, and over time, he transitioned into this leadership role—an unexpected but deeply fulfilling progression. Beyond titles, CRA has become his career, driven by a commitment to the community. Phil considers it a privilege to provide a safe space where students feel heard and supported. 

Can you provide an overview of Compassion Road Academy and its mission, as well as share with us with some background on the founding and origins of CRA? 

Our mission at Compassion Road Academy is to educate the “whole child” so they become conscious, competent, empowered self-advocates. We provide a holistic, safe, nurturing and academically rigorous environment that encourages internal transformation and healing. Students are met at the door with complete acceptance. Students, parents, and staff are an integral part of our community anchored in the spirit of compassion for all. 

Eleven years ago, Compassion Road Academy was established to serve students released from juvenile detention. Ultimately, once they were released, they did not have a school to go back to as their previous school likely wasn’t working for them. Originally starting with just 30 students, our goal was clear: to provide a reliable school option where students could not only receive an education but also experience personal growth. Our approach was rooted in mental health support, ensuring students felt valued and included from day one.  

Over time, our student body expanded, and particularly during the pandemic, we observed an increase in students experiencing anxiety. This period marked a shift from addressing particular behaviors to focusing on creating a place of belonging and understanding, where students could find acceptance and support. We want every student to walk in feeling welcomed and wanted, not as if this new school is a last resort for them, giving them the mentality of “I have to be here.” We want to ensure the students are thinking “I am invited here.”  

Could you elaborate on the intentions of the Alpha Program along with its core initiatives? 

The Alpha Program at Compassion Road Academy began in the 2022-2023 school year, and is designed to celebrate and recognize students for consistent attendance and maintaining good grades—often overlooked aspects in traditional educational settings. Instead of focusing solely on students who face challenges like absenteeism or academic struggles, Alpha shifts attention to those who consistently perform, ensuring they receive the recognition they deserve. By fostering a culture where academic success is acknowledged and rewarded, we aim to combat chronic absenteeism and build a sense of entertainment at school, ultimately creating that “I don’t want to miss out on this” mentality. When Grant Barnhill, the Founder of Shift, heard about the program, he immediately offered to provide a financial incentive to students that qualify for the Alpha program. We were searching for ways to make Alpha more appealing to students, and being able to present the donations provided by Grant and Shift to students shows them that dedication and perseverance pay off. 

To qualify for the Alpha Program, students need to maintain a minimum 90% attendance rate and achieve a grade of C or above. Our engagement tracker monitors these criteria weekly, providing ongoing feedback and motivation. In addition to regular recognition events, such as spontaneous Alpha Lunches funded through grants in the past, we offer tangible incentives like monthly stipends for maintaining Alpha status—$10 per month—and larger rewards, such as $50 for sustaining Alpha throughout a semester. Last year, four students achieved the remarkable feat of maintaining Alpha status for the entire school year, earning them $490 each. When we have the opportunity to host a spontaneous Alpha Lunch, its exciting and rewarding because it shows the students that sometimes life throws you cool things when you are performing.  

Looking ahead, our goal with the Alpha Program is to expand opportunities for rewards, particularly in funding more food and beverage incentives as we are often fighting against the “immediate gratification.” It’s easier to not show up to school when the worst thing that could happen is weeks away, but if you are going to miss school on a day where there is a special lunch, you will notice!  

Tell us about the nature of the partnership between Shift Workspaces and Compassion Road Academy. 

The partnership between Shift Workspaces and Compassion Road Academy began when Grant visited our school following an incident involving students. Moved by our mission and goals, Grant took the opportunity to better understand who we are and what we do. He often meets with students or conducts a presentation, sharing his own journey through troubles and to success, which resonated deeply with our students. Grant’s genuine kindness and immediate offer of support—”How can we help?”—marked the beginning of a significant collaboration. It felt like the CRA mission tugged at Grants heart, he could see past the frustration and see us, our work, and the students in a different way.  

We began to host lunches for our students at Shift Workspaces as well as take meetings or work out of the office space on occasion. Shift began to provide generous donations to the students and school as a whole, and Grant’s involvement extends to our Collaborative School Committee, where his insights and mentorship benefit both staff and students alike, this involvement is a promising path for the parents to see that CRA is more than just the Principle making decisions. Grant asked how he can help personally, and how can he get colleagues to help – who would be willing to be mentors or volunteers. As time went on, we became more comfortable in asking for a meaningful donation as there was a friendship. Grants trust in the teachers in that they will use the donations for good cause was amazing. The coolest thing is seeing someone in the community step up to be a mentor – you don’t know what you don’t know.  

In what specific ways has Shift Workspaces contributed to the success of the Alpha Program at Compassion Road Academy? 

Grant and Shift Workspaces has provided financial contributions that directly support the Alpha Program’s incentives. These funds have helped sustain the rewards such as $10 per month, $50 per semester, and $100 per year incentives for students who meet the program’s attendance and academic criteria. This past semester, Shift has donated $890 to 10 different students who have kept Alpha for one month, to the entire year.  

Could you share specific statistics on the outcomes achieved of the Alpha Program, such as the attendance rate of this year compared to previous years? 

This year, we’ve seen a remarkable increase in student attendance compared to previous years, with more students consistently attending school 90% or more of the time. This improvement in attendance has directly contributed to academic gains, reflected in a significant rise in grades varying from a 29% increase to up to a 41% increase, depending on the student. Notably, 12 out of our 90 students have shown a 20% increase in their attendance compared to previous periods.  

How was the Alpha Program received by students this year? Do you believe it has motivated them to further apply themselves academically and personally? 

Definitely! CRA has gotten a LOT of positive feedback from the district about our improved attendance rate; district partners reach out to ask about our systems and Alpha is part of that conversation. And we are one of the ONLY pathway schools to be meeting the attendance goal for our network, which is 76%. Our students ask about Alpha status regularly, and they notice it/regret when they lose it. One standout example is one student who has improved to 96% attendance this year — an 8% gain from last year. Alpha incentive is a big part of that success story.  

If someone were interested in making a donation, what are three key areas or “buckets” where contributions would be most impactful? What resources are most needed by the students? 

One of our greatest needs, and Big Picture goal, is support for additional staff members, particularly an Attendance Interventionist. This role would provide crucial academic mentorship and support to students who often arrive at Compassion Road Academy behind in their studies. Having a dedicated mentor to help them catch up academically can significantly improve their educational outcomes and overall success. The downside of being a small school is that we are funded by how many students we have.  

Something that can contribute to every day would be food and beverage donations, special treats. One bucket we really could use some funding for is eye care and physical health resources. For instance, we had one student who had a pair of broken glasses, this caused him to miss school. We ended up taking him to Costco for a new pair of glasses, and as a success story, attendance then increased. What was special about this is that it showed the student that we are here for you and want to see you succeed in every aspect of your life! He then began to reach out to us to check in on his grades, he was showing care for his performance.  

From your perspective, what makes Compassion Road Academy such a valuable institution for its students and the community? 

We never want our students to come across as having really hard lives – of course they have challenges, but our students are resilient. They work hard to be here which is in the face of legit challenges in life that could keep anyone from being here. It’s not coming from a deficit space, no one wants to fall back on resilience. The strength is in who they are and the teachers who are dedicated to highlighting those strengths. We want to support their journey so that they can be better off when they graduate – go experience the world and offer a different perspective! Our students learn a lot about relationship building – with all of us. Students, staff, parents, Grant is recognizable too from being vulnerable. That is impactful – how we talk through conflict, navigate conflict. This shapes them in addition to academics and gives students an opportunity to live life through loving, kindness gratitude, and of course, compassion.  

Grant, can you tell us about the relationship between you/Shift Workspaces and Compassion Road Academy? Why are you drawn to their mission?  

When we opened in 2016, I was concerned about having CRA directly behind our building  as I didn’t understand their mission. We had a significant amount of money invested in the project and it was imperative that it went well for me and our investors. We were about 20% occupied when we opened the building, and it was a struggle to lease the property initially. At the time, my office was in the southwest corner of the building and my window overlooked the school. On the first day we opened Shift, there was an altercation outside between two students that drew a huge crowd.  

I found the name of CRA Principal and wrote a long email expressing my concerns. She responded and said that these types of issues were rare and invited me to come over and get to know the team, the students, and their work. I resisted at first but ultimately went over and met with several students. When they told me their stories, I was completely blown away. I saw the CRA mission directly and the impact that they were making in students’ lives- it was truly a jaw dropping experience.  

When I saw who they were serving, I became immediately involved. From that point on, we have been great neighbors and collaborators. This demonstrtaes that when you are operating out of a place of fear, you are not seeing clearly. If I had gone over there sooner this would have saved a lot of heartache. My relationship with the school and the students has been a huge growth experience for me as I really identify with a lot of kids there. I had a rough upbringing, a lot of the kids who go there, their backgrounds, are similar to mine – I saw a lot of myself in the students when I was that age. It turned out to be one of the greatest privileges in my career to see them grow and mentor them, despite our rocky beginning.  

To me, the intention of being a part of the Alpha Program is to create motivation for student buy in. The students are learning grit while they better themselves and doing everything they can do to have a better life-that is special to me. 

Double your impact today: Shift will match every donation made by our members. 

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