Patriot Academy Seven Year Itch

It was just a few short years ago that a big change came to Jefferson County High School with the opening of the Patriot Academy. Controversial from the start, the Patriot Academy was the multi million dollar answer to overcrowding at Jefferson County High School proper. It was designed to house the freshman class of JCHS. Situated off the main campus but just a hop and skip down the road, the Patriot Academy will welcome its seventh class of freshmen in just a few short weeks. Is seven the lucky number or did we crap out with the whole freshman academy concept?

The answer to that question depends largely on who is doing the talking. The party line is that it did what it was supposed to do by removing numbers from the main campus. And, if that is the only yardstick that is used to judge success then mark one up for the win. But, educational success is a slop pot of many different components and numbers are just one very small part of the puzzle. The isolation of the Patriot Academy from the older student population has scored high marks with some parents but is the isolation really good for students? Can students at the Patriot Academy really get their feet wet in the “high school” experience when their only peers are newbies too? Most educators and any child expert will tell you that modeling is a part of learning. By watching others we learn what is and is not acceptable. How can a student model good high school behavior if they are straight from middle school? They can’t. Like it or not, navigating the halls with upper class men is a great way to learn boundaries. Sure, it can be intimidating to some students to face the masses but you have to learn the ropes sometime.

Besides sequestering a whole grade of students, my problem is with the very model of the Patriot Academy. The students move about their day encountering limited amounts of students. Some would put this down to a good thing but life is not insular and we should, at the least, be teaching life skills. For me, the time line of academics has changed vastly over the years. While in the past the sophomore year was more of a personal growth year than an important academic year, college decision making has changed the time line. Now, the sophomore year is a very important academic year, as most students do their college applications and scholarships their junior year. When everything is on the fast track, students cannot afford to have their sophomore year be the transition year. Because, no matter if it comes as a freshman or a sophomore, the first year on the main campus is going to be a transition year.

Students at the Patriot Academy are a part of Jefferson County High School in name only. The reality is that the Patriot Academy is simply middle school without the masses. I know that it is much easier to drop your freshman off at the Patriot Academy than watch them walk into “the big house”. But I contend that freshmen did it for decades and fared just fine. They became “Patriots” from day one and enjoyed all the great things and the difficult things that are a part of high school. By the time they walked in the door as sophomores they had earned the right to be comfortable in their home away from home. Now, instead of one stressful transition from middle school, we have two.

I have never considered the use plan for the Patriot Academy to be academically beneficial. The new academic time line just doesn’t lend itself to a sophomore transition year and the earlier that a student identifies with JCHS as their alma mater, the easier it will be to encourage them to spend their high school years actually attending high school rather than graduating early (which is the current trend). There is a use for the facility and I am sure that if the educational community puts its heads together it can come up with something great for all students.

If you can’t shelter students from the reality of Jefferson County High School forever, then what is the purpose of sheltering them for one year and at what academic cost? You are either a high school student or you are not. It is that simple. If we truly believed that ninth grade students are not ready for high school then we should have simply created junior high schools and left them in the “middle school” environment. I thing we crapped out in the most positive way meaning-we have a great facility that can be utilized for a forward thinking academic experience that is more direction based then age based, we just don’t need a “freshman academy”. The time wasn’t right then and it isn’t right now. We, as a community of parents, educators and public need to provide less “safe space” mentality and more directional encouragement. Freshmen don’t need their own school because they can’t or won’t or are afraid to fit in with the greater JCHS student body. All they need is a little push in the right direction and they will learn to fly; Just like we did.

Source: Kristen Depew