News: Soldiers give middle schoolers a back-to-school boost
Story by Capt. Kyle Key
BUTLERVILLE, Ind. - Nine students from Franklin Community Middle School returned to school a little earlier than they bargained for. As reveille sounded at 0500, the students hopped out of their racks and fell into formation outside the barracks for physical training followed by chow and classes. The Red, White and Blue program had just begun.
Thirteen-year-old Dustin Lewis from Franklin expected the program to be like any other summer camp that he’s attended, until he met his mentor Pvt. 1st Class Brandon Beverly.
“I thought it was going to be easier,” said Lewis. “Pvt. Beverly has taught me how to stand up straight and do the right thing. He likes to goof off too sometimes but he’s a nice guy and stays in control.”
But he wasn’t always that way. When Beverly moved with his family from Indianapolis to Linton, Indiana, he made poor choices in choosing friends, skipped school and became another dropout statistic.
“I started doing things I shouldn’t have and stopped doing things like school work,” said Beverly. “After almost going to jail, I got tired of the lifestyle I was living.”
Like other Soldiers at the Patriot Academy, Beverly looked for a second chance to earn a high school diploma and make a better life for himself. The Patriot Academy is the nation’s first and only accredited high school for new Soldiers without diplomas in the National Guard. Since opening in 2009, the Academy has awarded more than 235 diplomas, conducted approximately 6,000 community service hours and helped each graduate earn at least 17 college credits.
The Patriot Academy is considered a dropout recovery initiative, but a new partnership with the Franklin Community Schools Corporation has extended its reach into effective prevention strategies as well. The Red, White and Blue Program is designed to provide middle school students with two days and nights of character development, education, physical training, career preparation and positive mentoring. During the inaugural class, August 3-5, 2011, each student was paired with a Soldier who mentored them through the week.
“When we came here, we really weren’t sure what to expect,” said Dean of Students Walt Raines with Franklin Community Middle School. “This is a pilot program and our students were the first ones to go through it. Having a chance to work with the mentors has been fantastic.”
The Red, White and Blue Program is funded in part through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. It supports the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools.
Beverly said programs like these give kids positive role models to look up to.
“I didn’t have a mentor growing up,” said Beverly. “It probably would have helped me by teaching me things that I shouldn’t do and people I shouldn’t hang around. Programs like this might prevent kids from going down the same path that I did.”
The students ate three hot meals a day from the military dining facility, participated in military science classes, career briefings, marched in formation and slept in Army barracks.
Pvt. James Barker from Lubbock, Texas oiled his clippers and offered students a high and tight haircut. Cutting off their locks to emulate their mentors was not a consideration taken by the students. But their teacher, Mr. Eric Woodke, stepped up to the challenge. He bravely sat back, listened to the mentors’ stories and watched his hair fall to the floor.
“Private Barker gives a good haircut for one thing,” Woodke said. “Just hanging out with the guys in the barracks--the mentors have been fabulous talking to them about their lives and their struggles. Maybe their situation was worse than what the students were in, or maybe it was better. They’re not that far apart in age. These [students] are only a year away from starting their high school careers and trying to get that diploma. [The mentors] taught them to march in a half hour and we can’t get them out of the building for a fire drill!”
According to Patriot Academy Commandant Lt. Col. Wm. Kenny Freeman, the Red, White and Blue Program is catching on with educators, families and students alike. They are planning to expand its course offerings to students during weekends or breaks throughout the year.
In October, the National Guard Patriot Academy will present at the 2011 National Dropout Prevention Network Conference in Chicago to share with educators what it is doing to increase graduation rates. Along with the National Guard GED Plus program, the National Guard is strategically targeting the nation’s dropout epidemic, viewing it as a threat to the vitality of communities and a tragedy for those whose potential may never be seen.
“They have shown these kids what they can accomplish,” Mr. Raines added. “I just hope they take that away with them. Nothing is impossible.”