2nd chance education at district's academy

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Carter-Parramore Academy is making a difference

By Pat Faherty

There is nothing ordinary about Carter-Parramore Academy,
It is housed on a campus with historic significance to many area residents.
It serves a diverse body of 270 students -- each there for a special reason.
And it fills an educational niche that provides learning, personal responsibility and a tangible awareness that its students will one day be out on their own.
Each of the 20 teachers there has to make a difference and the staff completes a supportive environment.
Heading it all is veteran educator Rosalyn Smith. She has been principal since March 2010, but her history with the facility goes back more than 40 years.
She actually graduated from Carter-Parramore in 1968, back when it was Carter-Parramore High School.
Since, she has worked in public education more than 30 years as a teacher and administrator. She has continued her own education and brings a youthful passion and energy to her job.
"It's a challenge," she said.
And while Smith put in her time with the school district, the buildings of Carter-Parramore, constructed as a segregated school in early '50s, have housed almost every grade level. It went from a high school, to a junior high to a middle school and now it even has a nursery.
The district describes Carter-Parramore as "a second chance school." It is populated by students in grades 4-12 whose education paths for one reason or more, have not worked out somewhere else.
They have to be at least two year or more academically behind and they choose to come here.
Its mission as the district’s only alternative school is to address their academic and/or behavior needs, get them a high school degree and the opportunity to go beyond that.
The school is also home to Hope Academy, a program for students who have been expelled from a regular school, but are getting a second chance,
On any given day, Carter-Parramore Academy looks, sounds and feels and like any other school.
Smith and her staff have worked to make the antiquated campus inviting -- a place to be proud of attending. “We do the best that we can with what we have,” she said.
Classes are kept as small as possible.
The students wear uniforms and rules are enforced. But student recognition is also part of the program. Student work adorns the walls while bulletin boards and special assemblies are used to recognize special accomplishments.
As for the academics, it doesn’t take a visitor long to realize how they are hitting hard on the basics – reading and math – subject areas the academy has struggled with in the past, failing to meet both state and federal criteria.
“It’s math,” said 11th grader William Moore, when asked what his favorite subject is. “Math is at the top.”
Seventh grader Abran Bras said reading was his favorite subject, something he could do at home when he bored. In Ms. Sherman’s class the students were reading and discussing Gary Paulson’s youth novel “Hatchett.”
But keeping this student body on track takes a lot of effort, both in the classroom and through special support.
“We don’t want them dropping out,” said Smith as she explained the student study team concept. It’s a labor intensive effort by the student’s teachers and counselors to come up with a survival plan for a student going astray.

Bold Step is another program. It serves teenage parents. Carter-Parramore has certified daycare staff on site who take of the babies so the young parents can continue their education.

Then there are the two transition programs. One is for students with learning disabilities. Smith explained that at the age of 20 and above, Gadsden County still maintains these students who want to remain in school and work on a vocational trade, job placement skill or life skills. That class is housed there along with another program for students age 2 and above.

This is also a program for pre-K students with learning disabilities to get them ready for kindergarten.
So within its wide age range, the school deals with at-risk students who can be homeless, on their own or living in dysfunctional homes. Students who tend to have high absenteeism and are struggling academically.

But as Smith points out, the Gadsden County School District has decided that for these students to get a good education is one way to help the hold society.

“This mission of this school is to develop productive citizens who can compete in a global society,” she said. “So we have a big task on our hands.”

This effort does get some federal help since Carter-Parramore is a Title I school this mean that since a high percentage of its students (35 to 40 percent) qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school also maintains community partnerships with businesses and social services and everyone on staff is a mentor.

Smith acknowledges it’s a tough job, but it would be hard to imagine her walking the hallways anywhere else.