Students advance at STAR Academy

Published 12:15 am Sunday, November 2, 2014

Last year the Mississippi legislature appropriated funds for a program that gives students who have fallen a year or more behind in their studies the opportunity to catch up to their rightful grade. The STAR Academy was launched in two locations. “We were chosen as one of those sites that the state department is using,” said David Campbell, the assistant superintendent of the Vicksburg Warren school district. George County was chosen as the second pilot site for the program. “The program is meant to slow down and lower the rate of dropouts in high school students. “National statistics show a student who has been retained once has a much lower percentage of staying in high school than those who don’t,” Campbell said.
STAR academy is hosted at Grove Street Elementary. The program is aimed to help eighth through twelfth-graders. An example to better understand how the academy works is students in the program start their first semester of the school year as eighth-graders and in January they begin the second semester as ninth-graders.
The program is comprised of four teachers who are aided by four teacher assistants. There are currently 80 students participating in the academy. With four teacher and 80 students, the class sizes are smaller. And with teacher’s assistants in each class the student to adult ratio ends up being 10-1. “The program is innovative in that it uses a lot of hands-on teaching and uses a lot of technology,” said Campbell. Students stay engaged with their teacher the entire time they are in class.
This program isn’t easy and students understand this before starting STAR academy. “They understood that early on. We had several meetings with the parent and the child. They had to sign a contract.” Campbell said.
The curriculum STAR uses is much more advanced and takes dedication from the student to be able to catch back up. “It’s similar with what we’re doing with all our regular classes, it’s just more hands-on and uses more technology,” he said.
The program is coordinated to the Common Core Standard and Campbell said he has not seen any issue with it. The Mississippi Department of Education funded the entire program, which cost $750,000. There has been no cost to the district in any way when it comes to the program. “We supply the teachers, but because it’s housed at our non traditional school, we already had the staff. We did not have to hire any additional teachers, so ultimately the cost has been zero,” Campbell said.
This is the first year the program has been implemented. “It’s been up and running just a couple of weeks now,” Campbell said.
“I’ve visited several times and the kids are just engrossed in everything that’s going on. Most of them are either working on Ipads or a laptop,” said Campbell. Statistics from the STAR Academy program overview show that 90 percent of participating students complete the program, and 76 percent accelerated two grade levels. The program has been implemented in more than 29 middle and high schools in the country, and more schools are in the works.

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