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What is a Star Academy?

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By Tim Cannell, Educational Relationships Manager

It was eight years ago when I made the decision to leave teaching and return to work for Pitsco. Matt Frankenbery and I had been communicating about what I was going to be doing, and he mentioned that part of my responsibilities would include working with our newest program called Star Academy. My immediate response was, “What’s a Star Academy?”

Matt went on to explain that it was Pitsco’s answer to dropout prevention and the program goal was to take overage eighth graders and in one year catch them up to their peer group so they can enter the following school year as 10th graders. I stayed with my line of questioning and asked, “Are you serious? You really think we can take students who are on a path to drop out and reengage them in the educational process so they can not only accomplish one but two academic years in one school year?” Matt shared a few of the staggering statistics plaguing our country related to kids who were dropping out by the thousands each year and that we needed to try to do something about it.

The Star Academy initiative has matured since the first program installed, and we have learned quite a bit. We now have a Program Design team that works closely with the school district, upfront, to ensure we are building a program that will be the best fit for their situation. An Educational Services Manager is assigned to each academy and is there to support the administration and staff with the goal of helping to give the site the best opportunity at success. Even though all of this is in place, there are still times when the question is asked, “What’s a Star Academy?”

Let me start my answer with this: a Star Academy is not just another program. There were times in my teaching career where my school district tried to address the dropout problem by selecting an unused classroom, adding some desktop computers, buying a self-paced software program for the core subjects, hiring the toughest teacher they could, and then adding students who had zero desire to be in school and were truly disruptive to the educational process – thus being a behavioral problem. This approach rarely resulted in measurable success. The Pitsco Star Academy is not for these situations or students that fit this description. We target students who have the academic ability but for one reason or another have slipped through the cracks and disengaged in the educational process. The program focuses on four subjects: math, science, English, and social studies. The most common implementation is a school-within-a-school setting that operates on a block schedule. The first semester focuses on eighth-grade course work and foundational skills necessary to complete the ninth-grade courses, which is the second semester.

Teaching is a demanding profession, and working with students who believe education has little value increases those demands. I’m still amazed when Star Academy students complete the two-years-in-one requirement and rejoin their peer group at the 10th-grade level.

The success of the Star Academy truly rests upon the teachers and the administration, because our approach is only as good as those who are implementing the solution.