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Academy president says school not limited to dropouts

December 04, 2000

Academy president says school not limited to dropouts



By SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer

see also: Students have good things to say about program

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

Role Models cadetsCASCADE, Md. - During a press conference following the ribbon-cutting for the National Role Models Academy Monday, the group's president and founder said the school isn't limited to high school dropouts.

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The school is now also taking students "seriously at risk of dropping out," said founder Robert Alexander. He has no problem with allowing some who have not yet dropped out into the program, he said.

The apparent change was discovered when, at the suggestion of the school, reporters interviewed five hand-picked students.

But three of the five told reporters that they were not dropouts at the time they decided to switch to the school at the former Fort Ritchie Army base. A fourth said he was being home-schooled but did not indicate if that was a voluntary decision.

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Robert AlexanderIn interviews and company literature, academy officials have repeatedly called Role Models a school to help dropouts get a high school diploma and move on to college.

A brochure for the academy itself, handed out Monday, said, "The College Corps is a national residential JROTC, magnet school funded by Congress for young men and women who drop out of high school between 9th and 12th grades."

The academy's "statement of purpose," listed on its Internet site at http://www.collegecorps.org, describes it as "military-style college-prep magnet school for the nation's 6 million out-of-school youth with the aptitude and potential to be placed on a college-bound track."

Also on the site are a list of eligibility requirements including this one: The students must "have dropped out during 9th, 10th, 11th, or 12th grade."

The school, which has 50 students, began classes Oct. 23. It was originally projected to start with 100 students.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony that lasted more than an hour Monday, students in navy jackets, navy pants and white caps stood at attention on land leased from the PenMar Development Corp.

Retired Army Col. Jimmie Jones, principal and commandant at the school, had the cadets repeat an oath promising to always bring credit to their country, friends and the cadet corps and be good citizens.

"We are the future of the United States of America," they chanted.

Cadet Thomas Jones presented a commemorative plaque to Alexander and to World War II veterans.

"We want to issue an IOU of eternal indebtedness," Jones said. "We owe you big time."

"This is an incredible day for me and the cadets of College Corps," Alexander said. "We are showing America that this is the way to go."

He had no idea it would take nine years to turn his dream, the school, into a reality. His strategy included getting the support of retired generals and then lobbying Congress, he said.

The school's directors include retired Maj. Gen. Wallace Arnold, the former national director of the Reserve Officers Training Corps, and Dorothy Height, chairwoman of the Washington-based Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Alexander called Height "America's Mom" for her almost 50 years of civil rights work.

Speakers, including Height, repeatedly praised Alexander for his vision with the project.

The student-to-teacher ratio is seven students for each teacher, Jones said. When it reaches full size the school promises to have no more than 25 students per teacher. The school has about 40 employees, including the seven teachers.

Cadets are required to take foreign language and computer courses. They can earn 15 college credits and training toward certification in information technology. The computer classes are taught by Hagerstown Community College instructors through a partnership.

Jones said there are now 50 students and he hopes an additional 50 will start in January.

The goal of academy leaders is to eventually have 535 students. The enrollment structure will be similar to that of military academies, with each of the 435 U.S. representatives and 100 senators appointing one student.

Around March the school expects to start receiving applications from each member of Congress as they nominate local students. Those students will start school in September 2001.

Whether the academy enrolls 535 in the fall or not will depend on how fast the representatives start sending in student applications, Jones said.

Alexander and the Labor Department, which is funding the program, continue to have somewhat different interpretations of the present grant funding.

A Labor spokesman says the school has just one two-year grant for $10 million. But Alexander says Role Models believe it has $20 million for two years, or two one-year $10 million grants. Until both sides agree with his view, though, the school is working on the belief that it has just $10 million, he said.

While he has suggested the grants will be renewed, he said that is based more on promises from legislators than anything concrete.

A committee is being established to explore whether grants can be obtained from public and private organizations, Alexander said.

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