Emerson Academy improving student engagement with expanded programs, outreach efforts

February 16, 2024 | 12:14 am

Updated February 16, 2024 | 12:47 am

Rocky White

Emerson Academy has reported significant improvements in student engagement and academic outcomes, according to the district’s Director of Alternative Education Programs Rocky White. That includes major jumps in attendance thanks to targeted outreach, along with nearly every senior being on track to graduate this year.

Emerson Academy is an alternative educational institution operated by Owensboro Public Schools and is located at 1335 West 11th Street.

With a current enrollment of 106 students spanning grades 6-12, Emerson Academy has tailored its programs to meet the diverse needs of its student body. Notably, the school offers a “night” program currently catering to 36 students in grades 9-12. The program operates four evenings per week from 3-5:30 p.m. and serves students facing family hardships or seeking a more flexible educational option.

Additionally, Emerson Academy provides a daytime curriculum for 70 students across grades 6-12, including 27 participants in the Strive program for middle school students with code of conduct infractions. Administered by certified teaching staff, the Strive program offers short-term interventions lasting 15-30 days.

In an effort to enrich the academic experience, Emerson Academy recently introduced six new electives for the spring 2024 semester. White emphasized the importance of offering diverse elective options to facilitate the credit accumulation necessary for graduation. The new electives include forensics, sports history, current science topics, geography, pop culture (film and literature), and community service and career development.

“We have the core content areas that we cover and the variations within the content, but it’s difficult to attain the requisite amount of credits to graduate high school if there are no electives for those students to take,” he said. “So I approached the staff and we came up with some pretty interesting opportunities that we thought were high-interest that would be able to hold the students’ interest.”

The school’s initiatives have yielded promising results, with Emerson Academy reporting a notable increase in student attendance. Currently, Emerson is reporting a 90% attendance rate, marking a substantial improvement from the previous year’s to-date rate of 78.6%. White attributed this success to targeted outreach efforts aimed at supporting students in completing graduation requirements.

“We targeted 18 particular students that were at credit levels 16.5 or higher. It takes 22 credits to graduate from Emerson. … We have some students who haven’t attended school in a year and a half. We went knocking on doors … to try to expound the importance of a high school education and what a diploma could do for you,” White said. “We wanted to let them realize that we’re flexible in our alternative setting to work with these students to get them to the point where they can obtain a high school diploma. That makes them more employable, and there’s a sense of pride, too.”

Through extensive outreach and support, the school has helped 11 students overcome hardship circumstances to graduate early this year. An additional 19 students are on track to graduate in May, representing approximately 96% of this year’s senior class.

Additionally, White noted the school has achieved an absence of physical aggression incidents among students this year. He credited a supportive staff culture and proactive intervention strategies.

“It starts with the staff, the face that you put forward to the students. A smile goes a long way, and letting them know you care,” he said. “We seek to identify issues coming in off the bus. We’re on a first-name basis with the kids. If they’re coming in and they’re in a bind or emotionally distraught, we’re pulling them aside and taking them to (a staff member) they have a substantial personal relationship with.”

White emphasized the importance of establishing positive relationships with students and providing necessary support services, including group counseling sessions facilitated by a licensed mental health therapist.

Looking ahead, White said Emerson Academy aims to expand opportunities for students, including participation in construction trade classes (carpentry and masonry) offered by the district. White highlighted the importance of catering to students’ diverse career aspirations, whether they pursue postsecondary education or seek employment opportunities directly after graduation.

“Our masonry and carpentry programs are top-notch. Many students who attend those programs go on to sustainable incomes. They are able to get a good start and make a good living,” White said.

As Emerson Academy continues its commitment to student success and holistic support, White remains optimistic about the school’s ability to empower students to achieve their full potential.

February 16, 2024 | 12:14 am

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