By Madelynn Coldiron
You’d have thought the 20-plus students from Floyd County’s four high schools were rock stars after they took center stage at a KSBA conference clinic to explain the district’s Early College Academy.
School board members and others attending the session peppered the students with more questions about the program, its role in their education and even their own future plans.
In the selective Academy, students attend college full time during their junior and senior years through a partnership between the district and Big Sandy Community and Technical College in Prestonsburg. The college provides 25 tuition-free slots for Academy students and the district picks up the tab above that, along with the cost of textbooks and transportation.
“Our kids take no high school classes. They’re going to college all day,” said Superintendent Henry Webb.
The goal is for students to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree. Nineteen students started in the first year of the program last year, with 36 now enrolled; eight will graduate this year with associate degrees and 21 are on track for next year.
“It provides a strong academic challenge,” said Academy student Tyler Williams.
That’s exactly what Webb had in mind several years ago when he recruited some staff to research and plan such a program.
“We had kids that were going through our school system that were playing the game and could do so much more” he explained.
Two gifted and talented teachers and a guidance counselor staff the Academy, with at least two of them on the college campus with the students, who have their own room in the student center where the district delivers their lunch and where they can study between classes.
The support system extends to the college, which provides an advisor to the group, meets with the district personnel and selects particular teaching staff for the students, said gifted and talented teacher April Steele.
“It doesn’t happen that a student is going to get behind,” she said. “We won’t let them and (the college) won’t let them.”
That’s evident in their grades: all 19 students last year made the spring’s dean’s list at the college.
“We’re excelling in these classes,” Academy student Blake Baldridge said.
The college has classes on Mondays–Thursdays, so Academy students are back at their home schools – Floyd County has four high schools – on Fridays, where they mentor or tutor other students, do job shadowing in the community, or go on field trips to visit other colleges.
Even though they are on the college campus four days a week, they also still maintain ties with their home schools by continuing to participating in extracurricular activities, including athletics.
The competitive application process was designed to be “black and white,” Steele said, with no subjective essays. A range of points are awarded in categories that include ACT scores, attendance, grade point average, community service, extracurricular involvement, family income and first-generation college.
In addition to that, Webb said, “We select kids who are mature and can handle it.”
To attend the Academy, students must have taken their required end-of-course exams and have met state graduation requirements except for dual-credit classes in math and English.
The Academy has made a difference beyond high school, Webb said, with the message about achievement filtering down to seventh and eighth grades. “This is expanding rigor across the district,” he said.