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Role Models Academy graduates class of five

May 28, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Role Models America, the military-style academy at the former Fort Ritchie base, had what may be its final graduation ceremony Thursday, with five students graduating, students' parents said Friday.

The future of the school, which began Oct. 23, 2000, is unknown because the two-year, $10 million U.S. Department of Labor grant on which the school has been operating expires May 30. The grant will not be renewed.

Role Models President Robert Alexander said he is optimistic the program will continue sometime this summer, funded with private grants. But he said Tuesday no private funding has been confirmed.

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"I really hope it continues because it is a good program," said graduate Josiah Wilson, 18, of Gettysburg, Pa.

Alexander did not return phone calls this week asking about the graduation.

Earlier in the week, he said about 40 students were enrolled in the school.

Wilson said there were 29 students enrolled.

Students checked out of the dormitory at the academy Thursday, Josiah's mother, Robin Wilson, said.

As of December 2001, 224 students had been enrolled in the program, according to the Labor Department. Of those, 40 currently were enrolled, 10 had graduated and 174 left for other reasons, the Labor Department said.

That means 15 students have graduated from the program. If the academy can continue this summer, three more students are scheduled to graduate, Josiah's father, Dan Wilson, said.

Robin Wilson praised the program for high school dropouts, which her son joined in November 2000.

He made a "180-degree turn. You can't put a price tag on that," she said. He went from being an "F" student to an "A" student, she said. He was flunking every class except gym, she said.

Josiah Wilson said he was doing poorly in school before due to "laziness." Now, he no longer is lazy, he said.

The school made him want to work hard and proceed to college, he said.

"Before, college was a small, passive goal and now it is a goal I am implementing," he said.

Wilson said he hopes to attend college at the American College Dublin in Ireland, probably majoring in international business. He wants to be a multi-media business owner, he said.

Dan Wilson said he and other parents at the ceremony are praying the program will be able to continue.

Timothy Brown, 17, of Carroll County, Md., also graduated Thursday, after attending the school since May 2001.

He was kicked out of several area high schools due to disciplinary problems before attending the academy, said his mother, Nancy Couture, of Ellicott City, Md.

"Two years ago, he was going nowhere," she said. He had been affected by his parents' divorce, she said. "We had a hurting, lost kid on our hands," she said.

The academy gave him the structure and leadership skills he needed, she said.

"I loved it. It was such a godsend," she said.

Brown has applied to Valley Forge Military Academy. If he is not accepted, he will join the Army, she said.

Terry Gray of the Bronx, N.Y., said the academy has helped her son, Christopher Comrie, 17, of Gaithersburg, Md.

"I think it has changed him. And the changes I have seen in my son are for the better," she said.

Comrie had a 0.85 grade point average when he switched to Role Models in September 2001, she said.

Unless Role Models manages to continue, Comrie will return as a senior this fall to high school in Gaithersburg.

"It is a great program. It is a wonderful idea," she said. "My son is different because of it. His lazy attitude, it is not there as much. He is more responsible," she said.

Role Models filed May 10 for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which frees it from the threat of creditors' lawsuits while it reorganizes its finances.

On Monday, Role Models' landlord, the PenMar Development Corp., filed a motion to evict Role Models, saying it violated the sublease by not paying rent on more than one occasion.

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