Newton High officials see rigor in academy

COVINGTON -- Although Newton High School started its Academy of Liberal Arts just this school year, it's already seeing positive effects.

School Principal Roderick Sams said students are getting the rigor and challenges in their advanced courses, as they requested.

"It's stepping it up a little bit," Sams said about the program in a presentation to the Newton County Board of Education during its monthly meeting Tuesday. "They learn about the process more than the product. ... It's about getting them to think critically. ... It's about how you got the answer."

This year, 59 students were enrolled in the new program that promised to increase academic rigor and focus on post-secondary preparation. Although the program aims to guide students through four years of courses starting their freshmen year, this year's enrollment includes 38 freshman, 15 sophomores, five juniors and one senior -- a few also came from other high schools in the county to attend the program at NHS.

In the program, students take a more rigorous program that may require extra writing samples or other work. They aren't separated from their peers; instead, they take the same classes with them and complete the extra work, which Sams said also will benefit those students not in the program.

In these accelerated classes, students have a 3R Integrated Curriculum -- Rigor, Research-based and Reading and writing across the curriculum -- and focus on inquiry-based learning and critical thinking.

"During my time in the academy, I've learned to be an independent thinker and an abstract and critical thinker," said student Omar Scruggs during his presentation to the school board.

Sams said this includes more than only textbook activities but also research, cross-curricular studies and expanding their knowledge base.

"That's going to serve them well as they move on to higher level classes and post-secondary institutions," he said.

It also focuses on post-secondary preparation -- which helps with a partnership with Oxford College -- and community service.

"There's not a college in America today that doesn't want a student involved in their communities," Sams said. "My goal is to prepare these students to go into any college and university they want to attend."

This includes a two- or four-year institution and the military, he said.

"I feel I can accomplish anything," said ninth-grader Alex Grady.

Students interested in applying to the academy next school year will be able to learn about that process starting next semester.

At the beginning of spring semester, the school plans to hold informational meetings at each Newton County middle school for interested students and their parents.

In February, students should complete an application package. Admission is based on grade point averages and course levels, standardized test scores, teacher recommendations, resumes and writing samples and attendance and discipline records.

In mid-February and March, the school will evaluate applications, and on March 30, it is tentatively planning to mail invitations to the program for students selected. Contracts with final grades should be submitted in mid-June. Welcome letters and information about the summer institute in July are tentatively scheduled to be mailed on June 30.

The school plans to grow the program in future years.

"I know the numbers will grow. ... You're going to have a waiting list," said school board member Cathy Dobbs. "How wonderful it is to have this for our children ... and how exciting for everybody in Newton County."

More information about the program is available at www.newtoncountyschools.org/newtonhigh, where the school plans to put applications to download.