Alabama Program: Fresh Start for Students and Teachers

Teachers who have been with the Star Academy program in Mobile, AL, all four years it has been in place include, from left, Melissa Story (Science), Robin Rivers (ELA), and James Dixon (Math)

Mobile Star Academy on the rise as veteran teachers provide stability and personal attention

In its fourth year, the Star Academy program at the Pathway School in Mobile, AL, is hitting its stride, serving a maximum number of students and preparing them to get back on track with their age peers in school.

Perhaps not coincidental to this positive progress, three of the four teachers have been with the Star Academy program since its inception in Mobile. Assistant Principle Francine Craig credits this core group of veteran educators for gradually embracing their roles and ensuring continual program improvement and success through the years.

“They love the children,” Craig says of Robin Rivers (ELA), James Dixon (Math), and Melissa Story (Science). “We have an opportunity to build relationships with our students . . . You can’t help students if you don’t know them. You have to know them, and they have to feel comfortable knowing that they can come to you with any problem, whether it’s school related or not.”

Rivers welcomed her expanded role because she had fallen into a predictable routine at her previous teaching stop. “I thought I was teaching for seven years. I really did. I thought what I was doing was effective. But I came here and I was challenged, and there’s this introduction to technology and different programs. I had to learn the programs and different techniques and say, “You know, this is actually set up a little bit better than what I’ve been doing all these years.”

Then, there is the critical role of the parents. Craig, Principal Ronald Coleman, the counselor, and all Star teachers attempt to engage and communicate with parents on a regular basis.

“At all times, they know what to expect from us and what we want them to do and what’s expected of their children,” Craig says of parents who allow their children to participate in the Star Academy program. “Periodically throughout the year, we invite them in to share what’s going on. We invite them anytime that they need and want to see what’s going on. They’re welcome to come; the door is open.”

Parents’ initial involvement comes as part of an interview during a formal recruiting process to the dropout prevention and acceleration program.

Even students who have reservations about the rigorous program designed to advance them from eighth grade to tenth grade eventually warm up when they learn what the Star Academy entails and how they’ll be treated.

“I told my mom, ‘Mom, I really don’t want to come here.’ She said, ‘You have no choice. I’m making you come,” said Jamie, an honors-track student who had fallen behind his age group in the first grade. “They made me do an interview and I was like, ‘Now I really wanna go. The first day of school I was nervous, but after a while, I started fitting in with everybody.”

Faith, who was held back after failing math as a seventh grader, was excited for a second change, though slightly nervous at the same time. Any uncertainty quickly faded away. “I saw it as an opportunity,” Faith said. “They said it was going to be hard, but I at least wanted to try to get back into 10th grade. It’s very challenging, but at the same time it’s kind of easy because they help us toward our goal.”

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