Residents hear prep school plans


CASCADE - More than 200 people turned out at the former Fort Ritchie Army base Monday night to hear details about a planned college-preparatory magnet school for high school dropouts.

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Role Models America Inc., a nonpofit Maryland-based organization, plans to open a military-style academy that would give students a second chance for a diploma and an opportunity to go to college.

Some of those attending the meeting wanted information on the criteria for students wishing to participate in the pilot program and on how well the students would be screened.

Academy founder Robert Alexander said that to qualify a student must not have left school because of criminal activity or explusion. Those who are on probation, have charges pending or must make restitution or perform community service would not be eligible to attend the academy, he said.


Alexander asked for volunteers to join a committee to help Role Models America select applicants.

He reassured residents that the goal is to accept only the most promising students. The academy is a pilot program that, if successful in Maryland, could be duplicated nationwide, according to Alexander.

"Believe us, we want early success. We are going after the best and brightest," he said.

The students will be high school dropouts at least 16-years-old without criminal records who have demonstrated they have the aptitude and potential to finish high school and enter college, Alexander said.

He said the organization's goal is to emulate West Point and other military schools.

"We are trying to create an incredible institution, a first-class institution that can be the foundation for renewed spirit and education," he said.

One person at the meeting asked how the program was funded and whether Washington County residents would pay additional taxes to keep Role Models America going.

Alexander said the school is funded by Congress and that Washington County residents wouldn't face extra taxes.

David Churnesky, of Cascade, said Alexander allayed his fears about the academy.

"The information presented this evening has put my mind at ease," he said.

George Drastal of Raven Rock Road also threw in his support for the academy.

"I want to welcome RMA to the county," he said.

Drastal said he hopes Washington County and the academy have an "open, trusting relationship."

One man at the meeting asked how many people from the Fort Ritchie area would be hired at the academy.

Residents of Washington County, Frederick County, Md., and Franklin County, Pa., will be given first preference in hiring Alexander said. He couldn't provide an exact number, Alexander said.

"I can assure you we will canvass this area first," he said.

The Role Models America Academy is expected to create 175 jobs, which will be available in early May, he said.

The academy will have 535 students and each of the 435 U.S. representatives and 100 senators would appoint one student.

The curriculum will include mandatory vocational classes in information technology at the school through a dual enrollment program with Hagerstown Community College.

Classes are scheduled to start by this fall and the academy will be certified to offer high school diplomas recognized in all 50 states. The students will live on the campus year-round. They will wear uniforms and not be permitted off campus unless they are in an organized group.

Using the former Army base's 36 buildings, dining facilities and other structures, the school will establish an education complex with three dormitories, a chapel, gymnasium, theater, and classrooms, he said.

The academy has signed a one-year lease for 254,000-square-feet of existing facilities with an option for a four-year renewal.

The lease is with the PenMar Development Corp., the Maryland General Assembly-created organization charged with bringing in businesses to replace the 2,000 jobs lost when the Army base closed in September 1998.

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