Sarah Fockler traded Bs and Cs for As when she joined the student body at Fort Mill Academy.
It's a feat that now comes easy for the 15-year-old, thanks to the nontraditional class environment at the academy that fosters hands-on learning.
"Here, I can concentrate better," Fockler, a former Nation Ford High School student, said of the academy. "There's not as many distractions. I just do my work and move on."
Students are referred to the academy that sits on a slight hill off Banks Street to get back on track when they face behavior, academic or absence challenges. When students overcome their obstacle, they are eligible to return to their home schools.
In 2008, the academy served more than 80 students, according to school records. So far this year, the center has served 82 students, including Fockler. The teen was referred to the academy in January to overcome a behavior challenge, she said.
"Fort Mill Academy provides an avenue of resources for students to make a turn around," Principal Marty Conner said. "Our environment just makes our students focus on their choices because there's no outside distractions."
While some see the academy as a dumping ground for bad kids, Fockler said the misconception is far from the truth.
"People shouldn't judge the kids who are in here," she said. "They aren't bad. They just made bad decisions."
But at the academy, making wrong choices isn't an option, she said.
"I have to watch everything I do and not act up," she said. "My principal is in the hall when I switch classes. That makes me more cautious about how I act. When I get back to Nation Ford High School, I'll be used to doing the right things."
Fockler expects to resume classes at Nation Ford High come August. For now, Fockler takes comfort in knowing that her parents are proud of her. More important, she is proud of herself.
"Now, I feel like I can fully make my own decisions, and they will be the right decisions," she said.
-- By Toya Graham