Lagging students get chance to catch up with peers

Alex Davis is a smiling young eighth-grader at Rawlinson Road Middle School. She likes math and wants to become a veterinarian.

At 14, Davis is one year older than most people in her grade. She failed the second grade and has been a year behind schedule ever since.

But a new program called "Phoenix Bound" will give Davis and students like her a chance to get back to their normal grade level by next year.

"A lot of these kids get disenchanted with school when they realize they're behind their peers," Rawlinson Road Principal Jean Dickson said. "I hope this is going to give them the incentive to study and get up there with their peers."

The program will take up to 12 eighth-graders from each of the district's four middle schools.

The students will take a high school-level earth science class during the first semester of this year, in addition to their regular eighth-grade classes.

Next semester, they will be enrolled in Crossroads, a Phoenix Academy program. In Crossroads, they will earn three additional high school credits.

If they successfully complete all their classes, the students will start 10th grade next fall.

The program was piloted with four students at Castle Heights Middle School last year and got approval for the money to expand at a Rock Hill school board meeting earlier this month.

All four students finished the program and went on to 10th grade, said Walter Wolff, director of Phoenix Academy.

"They were excited about school. They wanted to be here," he said. "We're real excited to see how it's going to pan out with this new group of students."

Students enrolling in the program are behind for a variety of reasons.

Wolff stressed that Phoenix Bound is not just designed for students with disciplinary problems. He cited health issues, family problems and having a death in the family as other reasons why students sometimes fall behind.

Wolff said that by having students come to Phoenix Academy for their science class first semester, they will get a chance to meet and start building relationships with Crossroads teachers. It will make the transition to high school more fluid, he said.

Once they finish the program, students will get first priority if they want to take additional classes at Phoenix.

Bound students will spend two hours twice a week in their science course starting Monday.

Sherry East, who will teach the course, said it will be a mix of online and hands-on work.

Students will do lab simulations on the computer and will take quizzes and tests online.

The small class size will allow for much more personal attention than a traditional classroom, East said.

Students who wish to enter the program must sign an agreement saying they will uphold their end of the bargain. They have to show up for school and keep their grades up.

"It's going to be hard because it's ninth and eighth grade," Davis said. "I want to do good so I can get back to my right grade."