Learning Academy’s flexibility commended

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Program designed to meet students’ differing needs

Managing Editor

TELL CITY – The number of students benefiting from the Perry County Learning Academy’s services stood at 87 and will continue to rise, Executive Director Mike Bishop speculated at a meeting of its two-member board Oct. 2.

Those members, who meet quarterly, are Perry Central School Superintendent Mary Roberson and Lynn Blinzinger, superintendent for the Tell City-Troy Township School Corp.

“As the school year progresses,” Bishop continued, “we find more and more kids who are in need of credit recovery, especially.” That service helps students who find they will be short of the credits needed to graduate on schedule. Bishop reports the numbers of students served by the alternative school in two categories. Part-time students are those also attending classes in one of the traditional school buildings. Full-timers take classes only through the academy, and students in either category can make academic progress by using a computer program called Apex.

“Over the summer, we worked extensively with a lot of kids through Apex, and it worked out real nice,” he explained. It allowed students to continue working … even though we weren’t necessarily seeing them face-to-face.”

The online system allows them to work independently, checking in with instructors weekly.

Between 20 and 30 students worked over the summer, Bishop said in response to a question from Blinzinger, and they earned five credits in English, three in math, two in social studies, two in science and two in elective courses. In addition to helping students, the program generates reports that let parents see their children’s progress.

Bishop explained the academy operates under open enrollment, meaning, “I can get a call from an administrator within your buildings today, and they say ‘I’ve got a student that we need to get into your program’ and I can take them. It’s not like they have to be there Aug. 30 or whatever your start day is and stay until the end of the semester. It’s a flexible program that’s designed to serve the students, and I think to date it’s done that.”

Officials in the North Spencer County School Corp., whose alternative school is called the Adult Center for Education or ACE Academy, “really believe in having set enrollment dates,” Roberson said. “We do believe this is the better way to do it.”

“We used North Spencer … as a guide to get started,” Bishop said. “What’s happened over time is we have kind of evolved into our program and adjusted according to the needs of the students we serve.”

Blinzinger said he likes the higher degree of flexibility offered here.

“That’s what an alternative school supposedly is for, to be more flexible,” he said.

Such flexibility is well-suited to small-school environments, Bishop added, where a ninth-grade English class, for example, might be scheduled only a couple of periods a day and conflict with others a student needs to take.

“This semester, we had a number of students who were interested in getting into the vocational program,” he said, “but their schedules just wouldn’t allow it … we stepped in and are serving those students such that they can still squeeze that vocational class into their day. We all know that vocational programs are a very important part of our environment. As we go forward in years to come, I think we’ll see that even more.”

Bishop said working with the people who send students his way is easy.

“The relationships established with people in both high schools have really expanded our ability to cover students both here at (the) Schergens (Center, where Learning Academy classes meet) in every format that we’ve come across,” Bishop added. “I would say thanks to those folks, from the counselors to the principals within the schools. It makes my job easier having a good relationship with them. They know we’re all in this together.”

Individualized service plans are developed through meetings with students and their parents to tailor the program to each incoming pupil and his or her circumstances, Bishop explained.

Full-time enrollment at the academy often becomes an alternative to expulsion, he continued. A contract can be drafted for a student on the verge of such a consequence to provide “one more chance before that happens – ultimately we feel that’s something we all need to strive for, to keep them in school.”

Full-time enrollment can serve young people with a variety of needs, Bishop said, such as a young woman who’s pregnant. “They have some very differing needs than a student who goes home every night and plays Xbox,” he said. “It’s a changing environment and we’ve always tried to adapt and almost roll with it in terms of what the needs are of the program.”

Part-time enrollment can help students who need to work, Bishop said.

“We have a lot of students who are continuing to seek work,” he said. “We always encourage that because of (a program that allows) students to earn elective credits for work experience. That’s a win-win for everybody. The student wins because they’ve got full-time … or part-time employment and yet they’re earning elective credits.”

The 87 currently enrolled include 31 part-time and three full-time students from the Perry Central area and 44 part-timers and nine full-timers from the Tell City-Troy Township district.

The academy’s directors will next meet at 10 a.m. Jan. 8 in the Schergens Center.