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Rigorous program awaits academy students

March 15, 2000|By BRENDAN KIRBY

CASCADE - The students who attend an academy planned for the closed Fort Ritchie Army base will live under a rigorous, highly structured program from early in the morning until late in the evening, according to the program's founder.

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Role Models America Inc., which has signed a lease for more than $1 million to operate the school at Fort Ritchie, will be modeled after military schools across the country.

Robert Alexander, who founded the organization about eight years ago, said the school - Role Models America Academy - will be unique in drawing high school dropouts from every congressional district in America.

The school will adopt major elements already in place at institutions like the Naval Academy in Annapolis and Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania.

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"We hope that 96 percent (of graduates), like the other service academies, will go on to college," Alexander said.

Alexander said about 700,000 American students drop out of school every year. In 1992, 45 percent had a grade average of a "C" or better, he said.

"These kids were not, as my wife says, dimwitted. They have potential," he said.

Alexander promised strict supervision of the students, none of whom will have criminal records.

The idea has disturbed some people who live near the base.

"I certainly don't want to prejudge it, but we don't know a whole lot about it," said Cascade resident George Drastal.

Dave Churnesky, another Cascade resident, said he and his neighbors would have a number of questions.

"The reasons those kids dropped out would be very important. That's one of the things the community would like to know, I'm sure," he said. "You don't have to have a juvenile record to be a delinquent in my opinion."

Churnesky asked whether the students would be out in the community.

"I personally don't want my kids interacting with them," he said.

Larry Vogt, a retired admiral who is the organization's volunteer superintendent, said people who have those fears do not understand the program.

Vogt said the school will give students intense supervision and an environment free of the distractions that caused many of them to leave school in the first place.

"A lot of what's wrong with high schools today is the discipline," he said. "It's not the academic side. These kids are smarter than they've ever been with opportunities bigger than they've ever been."

 

Academics, discipline

The school's 535 students will live on the Ritchie campus year-round, attending school in trimesters. They will wear Junior ROTC uniforms and will live in platoons of 25 students. They will participate in extracurricular programs and ROTC drills in the same groups.

In addition to a full schedule of academic classes, students will learn computer skills and may be able to earn Microsoft and Xerox certification.

New students will spend the first week to 10 days of the program taking physicals, academic examinations and psychological tests, Alexander said.

Alexander said results of those tests will help school administrators determine what classes the students should take.

It will also weed out students who may not be able to handle the work, Alexander said. He said he hopes to refer those students to the International Masonry Institute, which has a training center on the former base.

"We're going to be tough. We want to demonstrate to the nation that it works," he said.

Daily schedule

Classes will begin each day at 8:30 a.m. and run until 3:30 p.m.

After classes, students will spend about an hour on ROTC drills.

From 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., they will play intramurals and eat dinner.

Then it's off to a mandatory two hour- homework period before students will have a chance to eat late-night snacks, call family members and relax.

Lights will be turned off at 11:30 p.m.

It is the familiar strict formula that the Armed Forces have used to train soldiers, Vogt said.

"It's the same group of people that the military gets today," he said. "We take young people from all walks of life and teach them highly technical skills in a short period of time."

Students will spend their weekends in the library, on field trips to cultural attractions in the Washington-Baltimore area and performing community service projects, Alexander said.

He said he hopes to form partnerships with nursing homes and other community organizations.

Students will work on the campus, performing jobs like cleaning the mess hall, Alexander said.

"We believe in work ethic," he said.

 

The campus

The Role Models America Academy will take up about 16 acres of the 638-acre base.

Alexander said classes will be held in 36 buildings on the base. Those buildings, which are 22 feet wide and 65 feet long, will also hold the principal's office and other administrative offices.

Students will live two to a room in three brick buildings that used to be soldiers' barracks. The buildings are behind a mess hall that the school will use as a dining facility for the students, who will eat three meals a day there.

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