The Bulldog Academy roars to academic achievement
Liz Snyder arrived at the Alternative Learning Center in 2012 wanting to change its perception as strictly a place where bad kids went.
A year later and the ALC not only has a new name but a fresh set of fundamentals geared toward helping students get the tools they need to succeed in a traditional classroom setting.
"I truly love that place and those kids," said Snyder, who now is the principal at Liberty Drive Elementary. "What we wanted to do was take away a negative stigma surrounding the alternative school. Alternative schooling is not just about behavior. Some of it is behavior but some of it is kids who just need a smaller setting and smaller class sizes. Other kids excel in those smaller settings."
One of the first things Snyder focused on at the Bulldog Academy, the ALC's new name as chosen by its students, was switching the focus from behavior to academics. Some students experienced vast behavioral improvements almost immediately after finding success academically.
"We put an emphasis on academics and took away the emphasis on behavior," Snyder said. "When kids came in I didn't harp on what they did wrong to get put in the ALC. They already knew what they had done wrong."
Several new positions were added to the staff at the Bulldog Academy. A behavioral specialist was brought into to help students cope with any issues they may have. Snyder felt it was important to have a person with specialized training to address specific needs.
"Sometimes these students need more of that 1-to-1 help that you provide in smaller settings," said Snyder. "Some of them just need to work on social skills and sometimes it has nothing to do with behavior. We didn't want this to be a place they were sent but somewhere they could excel and grow and transition back to the regular school setting when it fit them individually."
Snyder hired a transition coach who not only will help students return to their regular school but also transition into the community. Snyder found many students dropped out of school in order to work and help out their family. The transition coach this year will work directly with students who need to have a job but also want to finish school.
"I understand because some of these kids were the breadwinners and they had to pitch in due to these economic times," Snyder said. "When the option comes down to putting food on the table or school, they have to step up and put food on the table. You don't want anyone to drop out of school so you've got to figure out a way to keep them and give them what they need. They want a job, I want them to have a diploma."
A new life skills course is designed to help students develop structure, discipline and a routine, things they tend to struggle with in the everyday classrooms of a traditional school.
"Instead of it having a negative connotation, she's redesigned it to where they get a lot of extra services," said Crystal Hodges, chairperson for Thomasville City Schools Board of Education. "We didn't want it to have that negative connotation of an 'alternative.' Instead of knocking you down, it's more of an introspective. They go in and find out why did they not succeed at the middle school or the high school."
As many as 22 students attended the Bulldog Academy last year. Matt Pugh is moving from Thomasville Middle School to be the Bulldog Academy principal for the 2013-14 academic calendar. Snyder feels the foundation is there for Pugh to take the Bulldog Academy to the next level.
"We just put the groundwork there of what we envisioned for that school," Snyder said. "The next principal can just take it and run with it and I hope they do."
Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or firstname.lastname@example.org.