Scholars of the Western Academy at the H.L. Neblett Center have met every other Saturday for the past six weeks. The program is Owensboro’s first of its kind, with a goal to close the academic achievement gap among black males in the Owensboro Public Schools district. The students, who are called scholars and referred to by all in the program as such, have already been memorizing the Academy’s creed.
Twenty scholars are enrolled in this year’s academy and each are required to wear khaki pants and a blue Western Academy collared shirt. The 20 boys, in grades three through six in the OPS district are attending the academy in hopes of helping to close the achievement gap. Through project-based learning, the scholars work together to complete the program.
As the scholars begin each academy session, Olga McKissic, executive director of the Neblett Center, reminds the scholars to stand tall as they speak to the group and also during the recitation of the Western Academy creed. The positive encouragement she uses to guide the students through basic conversations in the group are indicative of the soft skills the academy program is hoping each boy learns.
Mason, a third-grade scholar, was recognized after the whole-group recitation of the creed for the way he stood — with his head up and his hands folded behind his back.
“You never know the reward for those who can stand up and deliver,” McKissic told the group.
Two of the boys who had memorized the creed during the second session were rewarded last week with tickets to see Drumline’s holiday performance at the RiverPark Center. They shared with the group what they enjoyed about the program and what their favorite numbers were in the show.
Sixth-grader Mikell said that he had studied for four hours the night before because he really wanted to see it.
“If you study things you get rewarded,” Mikell said of the lesson he had learned in working to memorize the creed.
Martiza Meeks is the site coordinator for Western Academy and told the scholars that learning the creed is not just for the academy but that it goes with them everywhere.
“It’s with you when you aren’t here,” she told the table of boys. “The creed is not just for today…It’s how you carry yourself in the community.”
As the scholars went to their sessions to work on academics, Meeks held a meeting for the parents of boys in the academy. The meetings, she said, will be held quarterly to discuss the importance of the program and the policies in place for the scholars and parents.
Caisyn, a third grader, was excited to work on the math lessons because he said that math is his favorite subject at school. He said that although he has not memorized the creed yet, he plans to study at home so that maybe when he returns on Dec. 7, he, too, can say it for the academy participants.
Academy teacher Scott Morton, who works at Owensboro Innovation Middle School as an intervention specialist, said that he wanted to work with the academy to give back to the community where he grew up.
The academy will be back in session Dec. 7 and Dec. 14 before breaking for the winter holiday.