National Guard June 2011 : Page 34

Hooah High By Andrew Waldman The Army Guard’s Patriot Academy is giving recruits who left school early another shot at a high school diploma BUTLERVILLE, Indiana HE NATIONAL GUARD Patriot Academy looks and feels like any other high school. Lockers line the corridors. School as-semblies enliven the gymnasium. The well-stocked library is a popular study area. The academy even has a trophy case. But walk the hallways of this high school for a while and the differences become clear. The building is remarkably quiet as most students are working silently and alone on Web-based courses on individually issued laptop computers. T Each room is staffed with a teacher who occasionally hovers behind a student and answers questions. The most glaring difference, howev-er, is that these students, ranging in age from about 17 to 21, are in the Army National Guard. They are not raw recruits, but graduates of basic training who are completing their high school diplomas before shipping out to their advanced individual training (AIT). Students view the Patriot Academy as a chance to get their lives back on the right path. Educators, cadre and staff say it’s an example ( another example, page 36 ) of how the Guard is helping to end what many consider a crisis—the escalating dropout rate in American high schools. The Patriot Academy, located on the grounds of the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center about a mile west of Butlerville, Ind., is fully accredited by the Indiana Department of Education. The academy, still a pilot program administered by the National Guard Bureau, opened its doors about two years ago. It was an idea of retired Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, the director of the Army Guard at the time, who saw the school as a way to help transform at-risk youth, who were a drain on their communities, into soldiers, who served their communities. “I personally feel that education should be one of the main ways that we recruit the force,” he says. “There is tremendous talent there and we decided we’d put in place a way to 34 | Na tional Guard

Hooah High

Andrew Waldman

Army Guard's Patriot Academy is giving recruits who left school early another shot at a high school diploma<br /> <br /> BUTLERVILLE, Indiana<br /> <br /> THE NATIONAL GUARD Patriot Academy looks and feels like any other high school. Lockers line the corridors. School assemblies enliven the gymnasium. The well-stocked library is a popular study area. The academy even has a trophy case.<br /> <br /> But walk the hallways of this high school for a while and the differences become clear.<br /> <br /> The building is remarkably quiet as most students are working silently and alone on Web-based courses on individually issued laptop computers. Each room is staffed with a teacher who occasionally hovers behind a student and answers questions.<br /> <br /> The most glaring difference, however, is that these students, ranging in age from about 17 to 21, are in the Army National Guard. They are not raw recruits, but graduates of basic training who are completing their high school diplomas before shipping out to their advanced individual training (AIT).<br /> <br /> Students view the Patriot Academy as a chance to get their lives back on the right path.<br /> <br /> Educators, cadre and staff say it's an example (another example, page 36) of how the Guard is helping to end what many consider a crisis–the escalating dropout rate in American high schools.<br /> <br /> The Patriot Academy, located on the grounds of the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center about a mile west of Butlerville, Ind., is fully accredited by the Indiana Department of Education.<br /> <br /> The academy, still a pilot program administered by the National Guard Bureau, opened its doors about two years ago. It was an idea of retired Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, the director of the Army Guard at the time, who saw the school as a way to help transform at-risk youth, who were a drain on their communities, into soldiers, who served their communities.<br /> <br /> "I personally feel that education should be one of the main ways that we recruit the force," he says. "There is tremendous talent there and we decided we'd put in place a way to recruit the force and get at what is a major issue in this country."<br /> <br /> An estimated 1.2 million students drop out of high school annually, says Maj. Kevin Rivers, the Patriot Academy's operations officer.<br /> <br /> "This is a small part of a solution to a huge problem," Rivers says.<br /> <br /> And the Guard is an appropriate partner in that fight. Because Guard units are made up of local residents, they understand what is needed to make a community successful.<br /> <br /> "We're in the communities. We have the jobs. And we know the impact of not having a high school diploma," says Rivers.<br /> <br /> The Patriot Academy is specifically designed for high school dropouts who need six or fewer credits to earn their diplomas.<br /> <br /> Students complete basic training before being assigned to the Patriot Academy, where a team of guidance counselors reconcile their records with Indiana state requirements and determine what classes are needed to complete high school.<br /> <br /> Once that is done, students start a specially designed online program for high school students offered by Liberty University, a Christian university in Lynchburg, Va., with a large online offering of courses.<br /> <br /> Some students need to acquire just half a credit to graduate. Some need six courses. Either way, it takes about one month to complete one of the academy's Liberty-designed courses, says Becky Morrow, one of the academy's guidance counselors.<br /> <br /> Academy students find it significantly different from a traditional high school. Bells still signal the end of a class and cafeteria food is still cafeteria food, among other familiar trappings.<br /> <br /> But the classroom work is vastly different.<br /> <br /> Students work at their own pace. When they need help, they ask for assistance from a classroom educator. The educator is more than a study hall monitor. Each is a uniformed Army Guard officer with a teaching license who has specialized knowledge for the area they supervise.<br /> <br /> But beyond the subject of their expertise, the educators are here to teach life lessons, as well.<br /> <br /> "[Students] have to learn to set and attain long term goals," says Capt. David Eaton, an academy educator. "And this might be the most difficult thing that they do in their military career."<br /> <br /> And, according to Morrow, the teachers "are not here to coddle them."<br /> <br /> The goal is to get the students a high school diploma and send them on to the next step of their career. It's a more direct method, and it works for many academy students who weren't successful in a traditional high school.<br /> <br /> "The educators are blunt," says Pvt. Abigail Davila, an academy student from Florida. "For me, it's just easier when people are straightforward."<br /> <br /> There have been changes to the academy's teaching strategies, says Rivers. Originally, students worked independently and communicated with educators electronically for help.<br /> <br /> But Rivers says that method allowed too many dishonest shortcuts. Licensed educators now have additional influence in the classroom. Accountability has increased, while the potential for cheating has diminished.<br /> <br /> "We've gone from a system that was easy to abuse to one that is worthwhile," says Pvt. Stuart Millard, a student from Oregon.<br /> <br /> Academy students are still on initial entry training, so they have military education and soldier duties, as well. Just like any new soldier, they endure barracks inspections, tough physical training and warrior training tasks.<br /> <br /> They get little personal time.<br /> <br /> Each weekday, students are required to take military science classes, which are the only courses at the school taught in a more traditional classroom setting. On weekends, they take the skill outside to try it out in a hands-on scenario.<br /> <br /> Because the Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex is a premier training facility for urban operations and domestic defense and disaster response, many of the training activities the students take part in are wrapped into larger exercises. Students have been cast as role players in exercises that help others train for missions.<br /> <br /> And academy students get to take part in other courses that most initial entry soldiers would not, including combatives. Some have even achieved certifications to be instructors in these courses.<br /> <br /> The combination of additional military science classes and the training on weekends has given students more opportunities to train than recruits who go to basic and then straight on to AIT after enlisting.<br /> <br /> "We're just building on basics," says Staff Sgt. Jason Eason, one of the school's military science teachers. "They get one step ahead of their peers."<br /> <br /> The additional training helped several academy graduates earn honors at their AIT graduation. Several have competed in state-level soldiering competitions.<br /> <br /> "You will definitely leave this place stronger and smarter," says Pvt. Alexandra Jackson from California.<br /> <br /> All students also participate in community service projects, providing them chances to interact with people outside of the military installation.<br /> <br /> "It's just cool to give back to the community," says Pvt. Justin Shepherd, a recent academy graduate from Tennessee.<br /> <br /> The academy's future will depend on several factors. And as a pilot program, it is both under the microscope and lacking the security of a permanent budget line.<br /> <br /> Maj. Charles Nesloney, the acting academy commandant, and Rivers are among those seeking ways to make the school both more academically enriching and cost effective. The latter may be the bigger challenge, as students are fed, clothed and provided their Guard pay while they are learning.<br /> <br /> But Rivers thinks the results justify costs. Recruits end up with a high school diploma, a variety of additional military skills and a sense of community.<br /> <br /> The program is "creating taxpaying citizens," Nesloney says.<br /> <br /> So far, the academy has been successful. Eighty percent of students who enter the program graduate. Of those graduates, more than 90 percent complete AIT.<br /> <br /> Still, there is room to do better, Rivers says. The academy has graduated slightly more than 200 students and 46 states and territories have sent a soldier to the school.<br /> <br /> But the school needs a larger profile, he says, so that recruiters in every state know it is a viable option for young people without a high school diploma who want to join the Guard.<br /> <br /> Vaughn says his original vision for program included opening Patriot Academies in other states. He says he still thinks that the idea could catch on beyond Indiana.<br /> <br /> "To me, every great institution ought to give back to this country," he says. "In some small way, as an institution, we have the ability to do that."<br /> <br /> Andrew Waldman can be contacted at (202) 408-5892 or at andrew.waldman@ngaus.org.<br /> <br /> GED Plus: Another Option for Recruits Without a High School Diploma<br /> <br /> Many Army National Guard recruits who did not complete high school are too old or don't have time for the Patriot Academy.<br /> <br /> For them, there is the GED Plus program, which helps high school dropouts earn a General Education Development diploma in two to three weeks.<br /> <br /> Operated by the National Guard Bureau at the National Guard Professional Education Center on Camp Robinson in North Little Rock, Ark., the program has awarded more than 10,000 high school equivalency diplomas since its inception in 2005.<br /> <br /> The two- to three-week course starts and ends before a recruit is sent to basic training. Each recruit is placed in a GED-diploma completion course based on the scores of the recruit's Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, also known as the Armed Forces Qualification Test.<br /> <br /> Students have time to study before they take a GED exam. Once they complete the course, they normally are shipped straight to basic training.<br /> <br /> The program is able to handle more than 400 recruits at a time. In order to qualify for the program, a recruit must have dropped out of high school at least 60 days prior to entering the Guard and have a record free of major legal problems, says Command Sgt. Maj. Corey Jackson, the top enlisted Guardsman at GED Plus.<br /> <br /> Jackson says recruits also are given some initial military training ranging from familiarization with military bearing to land navigation.<br /> <br /> "That's the plus part in GED Plus," he says.<br /> <br /> –By Andrew Waldman<br /> <br /> "This is a small part of a solution to a huge problem." –Maj. Kevin Rivers Operations officer, Patriot Academy <br />

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