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FLA leads the way at Goshen, PCHS

By Lauren Johnson

Pike County Schools has recently implemented a Freshman Leadership Academy program at both Goshen and Pike County to help the students during their transition from middle school to high school.

“The FLA is an innovative approach to ensuring our students get the support they need to be successful as they make the move to high school and begin choosing their individual pathways to graduation, college and a career,” said Shondra Whitaker, the middle school instructional specialist.

This program was established not only to help the students during their transition, but also to install core values and teach different subjects and skills. Freshman students will study the four core subjects, 21st century technology and character development.

Jeff McClure, the administrative assistant to the superintendent and director of Alternative Learning Center, explained the vision for this academy is to help students set and achieve their goals, make responsible choices, develop leadership skills, understand and manage emotions, and to develop caring and respectful citizens.

“Our four cornerstone concepts are integrity, responsibility, character, and leadership,” McClure said. “Even though this program has been piloted in different versions over the past couple of years, we are hoping that this program will be even more purposeful and the concepts will be more fleshed out.”

This program started as a pilot program in 2018 at Pike County High School, and it has evolved and grown into what it is today. Whitaker explained it started as an idea when she was the assistant principal at Pike County High and they saw that the 9th grade retention rate and the 9th grade failure rate was much higher than the 8th grade.

“We knew we had to do something to support those ninth-graders,” she said. “They were successful in middle school, but the same students weren’t always as successful in the high school.”

After researching different transition freshman academy programs, they put together the basic tenant of the program and implemented it that year. This year brought big changes to the program in order to prepare the students for the different academy programs available.

Starting this year, the State Department of Education made two waivers available, which allows JROCT 1 and JROTC 1b to count as career prep and physical education credits.

McClure said many freshman students are trying to squeeze in as much as they can, so this waiver option will give the students a good foundation and the opportunity to fit more things into their freshman year than they could before.

“When they finish their freshman year, they will have satisfied their four cores, career prep credit, physical education, and their chosen electives,” McClure said. “At the same time, they’re also what’s called a career tech concentrator because they’ve completed two courses of the came concentration area. JROTC is a career tech area.”

This is an ROTC army program, but it’s not designed to be a recruiting program for the army. McClure explained that they are focusing on the character building aspects and leadership aspects of the JROTC curriculum.

“By having everyone in this JROTC course, not only are we giving them those core foundational traits that are built into the JROTC curriculum, but we also have them in preparation for the selection of these dual enrollment programs,” McClure said.

The Pike County Schools focus on marketing all of the dual enrollment programs to freshman students as well as the associate degree programs and the short-term certificate programs.

“We decided from the beginning that in the leadership academy we would start educating freshman on the different choices of academies and let them talk to students in current academies to get first-hand information,” Whitaker said.

Cloe Johnson, a Pike County High student who is in the JROTC class and the STEM Academy said, “This program can change your future to one that is destined for greatness.”

Because these programs take two to three years to complete, McClure explained they wanted to give the students the opportunity to learn about their options early so they have a chance to have an internship, apprenticeship, or co-op job their senior year.

“There are a lot of choices available and it’s important to address the students’ interests about possible careers when they are taking the career prep course. Our goal is for them to get experience their senior year, so they already have a foot in the door,” McClure added.

Calvin Morris, the senior Army instructor at Pike County High School, explained that he was somewhat shocked by how much the students actually like participating in JROTC.

“From my perspective, we are changing the students in a way in which they are more focused on their academic success while in high school and they have a great idea for success after high school,” Morris said.

Brittany Gilmer, the freshman biology teacher at Pike County High School, has been a part of the Freshman Leadership Academy since the pilot in 2018. “FLA has been beneficial to teachers because we all teach the same students, which makes it easier to communicate with each other and find ways to best support students who need extra help,” Gilmer said. “The students are more involved in their learning, and the field trips last year gave them first-hand knowledge of the colleges and careers they were learning about in class. With this program, students get the tools they need to make a successful transition from middle to high school.”

While the students have not been able to go out on field trips this year, Whitaker explained they are working on having a live stream of college recruiters and other things they can’t experience from the classroom.

“The students like the sense of feeling they have a place in high school together, the teachers like the support they have with one another, and I think parents appreciate that we’re doing the best we can for their students,” Whitaker said. “Our superintendent and the board have been very supportive of this program, and we’re grateful for them.”

More information about the academy can be found online at https://www.ca31.com/academyprograms.