Craft Academy launches its first graduates
Kentucky School Advocate
By Madelynn Coldiron
Both of Kentucky’s residential high schools for high-performing students are celebrating milestones this year. While Gatton Academy of Math and Science at Western Kentucky University is marking its 10th anniversary, the newest high school, Craft Academy for Excellence in Science and Mathematics, graduated its first class in May.
The 55 graduates representing 33 counties were among the first to attend the Morehead State University-based school as juniors, fulfilling requirements of their home school while earning up to two years of college credit.
“At this point in time we have exceeded our expectations in the first couple of years,” said Dr. Carol Christian, Craft Academy’s director. “In addition to most all being accepted and awarded scholarships to in-state institutions, we had students accepted into MIT, Georgetown University in D.C., Berkley, Georgia Tech, Washington University and other prestigious out-of-state schools.”
The selective school has a maximum of 120 students – 60 in each class – and like Gatton, it has a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) focus. Christian calls the relationship between the two schools “collaborative, not competitive.” She said one area where Craft differs is its project-based STEM+X courses, which enable students “to go a little bit deeper” to explore an area of interest.
Christian said awareness of Craft is growing. In its first year, 114 students applied; this year there were 197 viable applications. The numbers also show “the need is out there and interest is out there and talent is out there,” she said. Students from across the state apply, though the student body is primarily from central and eastern Kentucky.
The high school students live in their own residence hall and are more closely supervised and monitored than regular college students, with designated counselors, advisors and activities. Academically, their work is attracting notice. Examples: A student biology experiment went up to the International Space Station in February. Another group of students is helping a professor map Mayan ruins using drones, while several others are working on a project to create sensors in pants for a paraplegic who can’t sense heat or cold.
School board support
The school was launched with a $4 million grant from Joseph and Kelly Craft of Lexington; the legislature currently kicks in $2.8 million annually. Tuition, room and board, and meal plan are free for students. Local school boards provide varying degrees of support. Just-graduated senior Zebulon Hart from Montgomery County said his district was “extremely supportive,” with the school board paying for his books and a laptop.
“School boards need to encourage their kids to apply and when they do apply, they need to stand behind them wholeheartedly,” he said. “These kids are a product of your school system; they’re a product of the effort that teachers within the district have put forth for 10 years previous.”
Montgomery County school board Chairwoman Alice Anderson said having one of the district’s students accepted into the Craft Academy is a feather in its cap. “We just figured we were advancing their education,” she said. “If they get into something like that, then I feel it’s our responsibility to help them in any way we can to further their education.”
Christian said she expects student research to continue evolving. “We’re keeping a pulse on what are the up-and-coming things and so we’re really getting excited about the drone technology focus,” she said.
She hopes to expand the school’s makerspace and its optional six-week summer study abroad program. This summer, the Academy held its first summer residential programs, a seven-day SpaceTrek for sophomore, junior and senior high school girls; and the other a four-day camp for students in grades eight through 10 focused on space exploration/exomedicine.
Craft also wants to offer more internship opportunities for its students. “We’re going to train them and we’re going to get them out working with businesses. When they see how great these kids are, they’re going to keep them in their pipeline,” Christian said.