New learning academy to help struggling students

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By Bryan Marshall

Williamstown Middle and High schools will offer an alternative form of education for the 2009-2010 school year.

The Williamstown Learning Academy is designed to help students who may be struggling in a traditional classroom setting for a variety of reasons.

The school board approved the academy during its regular July meeting.

“This is an alternative education program,” said Principal Misty Buchanan. “It is not a separate school.”

Buchanan said she would like 10 students to participate initially, leaving room for more to be enrolled throughout the year if necessary.

The students in the academy will be taught by a teacher and an instructional assistant in a building located behind the bus garage.

Buchanan was familiar with a similar alternative program during her time at Carroll County Schools.

A similar program at Walton-Verona also was researched.

Students who are behind their age-appropriate grade level or need some credit recovery are likely candidates for the academy.

Other potential candidates are students who have attendance, behavior or socialization issues.

Parents also may place their child in the program.

“This is not going to be a dumping ground for students where somebody says they can’t handle a kid so they’re sending him out there,” Buchanan said. “They’re going to go through a referral process, talking to the parents and guidance will be involved.”

Some students may simply have difficulty functioning in a regular classroom setting, Buchanan said.

The goal of the academy would be to help increase confidence, self-esteem and discipline, while also getting students back on track to graduate.

“Some of the middle schoolers that were retained this year, some of it was because of their social interactions, which led to their lack of academic achievement, which led to discipline problems,” Buchanan said. “It’s all big puzzle. We found that some of these kids are very bright, they just have so much going on that’s keeping them from being successful in a traditional classroom.”

The academy will feature an individualized approach to curriculum.

To supplement the academics, the students will be involved in group and individual counseling and community service.

Once a child is placed in the alternative program, they are required to finish the school year in the academy before returning to a traditional classroom.

However, parents may request that their child stay in the program.

“Students will be given an opportunity when we take a look at them at the end of the school year to level out,” Buchanan said. “That means they meet their goals, met the requirements and did everything that they’re supposed to do. They then would transition back to the middle or high school the next year.”