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  • By Caroline Elswick

The case for saving the Scholars Academy

Editor’s Note: The reporter for this story is a student at the Scholars Academy.

On Monday, Sept. 23, the Horry County Schools Curriculum and Instruction Committee met to discuss two chief issues: whether the Scholars Academy would benefit most by becoming its own institution and if The Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology (AAST), which is a branch school of the Horry County Schools system, would be closed to only 11th and 12th graders.

Both issues have persisted each year since the schools were created, never generating enough traction within the district to spark change. This year, however, the committees are seriously considering taking action.

The Scholars Academy is home to a 4-year program on Coastal Carolina University’s campus. Participating students take honors, Advanced Placement, and dual-enrollment college classes. The academy excepts only 50 students every year.

The Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology is a school located in Carolina Forest which offers two programs: one being the STEM curriculum which students enter as freshmen and the other a Majors program for 11th and 12th graders. The Majors program offers concentrated studies in fields including Art, Engineering, and Pre-Med.

These programs were initially created so that academically gifted students would have access to Advanced Placement and dual-enrollment classes that were not offered at the community’s high schools.

Since then, the number of these courses, which were formerly unavailable to students at the local high schools, has increased.

Although many students were approached to share their opinions on the matter, none were willing to participate.

The Scholars Academy students shared their perspectives on this issue. These are not the positions of the school itself or its faculty, but the students.

A group of students led by juniors Alexandra Doyle and Caroline Morgan came together to create a list of their take on each issue that was addressed by the board.

"We see the current ranking system as a positive,” said the document, which students sent to board members. “Being ranked at our individual base schools rather than en masse has allowed the collaborative environment at Scholars to flourish. Simply, ranking entire classes of students against one another would completely destroy said environment. Forcing students with GPAs within hundredths of points of each other to be ranked against one another would undoubtedly up the competitive ante at Scholars.”

The students go on to explain how ranking Scholars students against one another would undermine the otherwise healthy competition at school. The issue in past years has been class rankings, and it seems to be an underlying cause for the actions taken this year.

“The program will collapse. Students who value their class ranks (either as a means of acceptance into college or paying for it) will leave the school; potential students will be discouraged from attending because of the rank stipulation; eventually, interest in Scholars will dwindle and the program will meet its demise. As it stands, over half of the junior class (40 students) plans to leave if this proposal as is passes and goes into effect for the 2020-2021 school year if the terms we suggested are not put into effect.”

Michael Foltz graduated from Scholars in 2019 and is now a freshman at Duke University.

“Had this gone into effect, there would have been a major lack of appeal to attend,” said Foltz. “If the decision had been made while I attended, it would have been tough to find a reason to stay. Scholars was a huge part of me being able to go to Duke and feeling confident enough to attend here, so to me it’s very important this issue is resolved, and Scholars holds its program status.”

The students are up in arms at this potential breach of agreement between students and the school.

“We did not agree to attend the Scholars Academy that you envision in this proposal--passing this proposal constitutes a violation of the understanding between students and Horry County Schools of expectations and requirements between parties,” said Doyle’s statement.

Students at the Academy of Arts, Science and Technology feel similarly, although their issue is not with class rank, but with the potential loss of their STEM program for 9th and 10th graders.

Rafael Adi is the Student Body President at AAST and presented a speech to the board at Monday’s meeting.

“This proposal suggests that a STEM student at AAST could receive a similar STEM education from a plethora of schools across the county, however, it's not about what specifically these students are learning, rather how they are learning and how they are using these lessons to implement not only in other classes, future careers, but their lives as a whole,” said Adi.

With STEM careers on the rise, students at the school see the program as a wonderful opportunity unique to AAST. Lizzie Batten is a junior Art major at AAST.

“The district needs a centralized four-year academy that focuses on STEM education,” said Batten. “STEM careers are projected to grow 11% from 2016-2026, and the need for schools who teach STEM-focused education are rising alongside it. AAST’s focus on innovation and design, personalized learning, and preparation for the future has provided a collaborative atmosphere of driven students who work hard to achieve success which operates differently from any other school in Horry County.”

Many students credit their success to these programs in their respective schools. Mia Reno is a junior at AAST and the president of the South Carolina Technology Student Association.

“Coming from a private school for 8 years, I was nervous about where my education would go when I got to high school,” said Reno. “I applied to the Academy with the intent of furthering both my education and social skills. Because of the opportunities that AAST has given me, I have become a student ambassador, helped raise over $26,000 for SOS Healthcare with Students in Action, had the ability to carry out my robotics interest for 11 years now, held officer roles and win awards for AAST TSA, been the 2018-2019 SCTSA Reporter, and am currently the 2019-2020 SCTSA State President.”

While the issue seems to be most important to program students, many base school students are standing up for the schools.

Emilie LaManna is a junior at St. James High School who supports the program schools, although she remains at her base high school.

“Coming from a base school, the Scholars Academy and AAST have many benefits that they offer that base schools do not,” said LaManna. “I think these programs allow students who want to take more challenging courses to be able to have that option but are still able to attend their base school’s extracurricular activities, such as; sports, music, and clubs. These students shouldn’t be punished for wanting to enhance their learning and shouldn’t be looked down upon by their fellow classmates at base schools.”

There are currently petitions being signed by members of each school. AAST has one petition created by Rafael Adi which has almost 3,400 signatures. Scholars has two, from Kyla Thomas and Clyve Lawrence, which together have almost 1,700.

The students would like to extend to the district of Horry County Schools their gratitude for the opportunities the students have so far been granted.

Horry County Schools spokesperson, Lisa Bourcier, responded Monday, Oct. 1, with an official statement on the issue.

“The Horry County Board of Education had discussions at their Curriculum and Instruction Committee Meeting on August 26, 2019 and at their regular scheduled Board Meeting on September 23, 2019, regarding making the Scholars Academy a stand-alone school beginning in the 2020 school year,” said Bourcier. “Discussions also included expanding the opportunities in CTE and STEM majors' program at the AAST for juniors and seniors beginning in the 2020 school year as freshman and sophomore CTE and STEM-related opportunities will be provided at the base high schools. These discussions along with information provided during public input will be taken into consideration prior to a vote by the Board.”

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