Henrico school transitioning to academy to help 'at risk' students

Published: Feb. 3, 2017 at 7:42 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 6, 2017 at 1:19 PM EST
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HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - An eastern Henrico elementary school is making some big changes that will target "at risk" students. Starting this summer, Highland Springs Elementary school will adopt a new program called "An Achievable Dream Academy."

The plan right now says all incoming kindergartners and second graders will take part in this new program with the intention that the entire school will fall under it over the next few years. This is the first school in the Richmond area to take on a big change like this.

Highland Springs Elementary School has had its struggles. Like some other schools in eastern Henrico, accreditation, and discipline have been issues. It's been an ongoing effort to improve the issues and parents say staff will not give up.

"I see the dedication of the staff and I see the urgency to want to reach and teach all," says Cynthia Brand Parker, whose daughter is in the third grade and is also a family advocate.

Now the school has been selected to become "An Achievable Dream Certified Academy."

It's been successful in the Newport News area. Along with academics, there is a focus on moral and social lessons. Principal Shawnya Tolliver has been studying the program for several years and brought some of its discipline methods into her school. She saw an improvement.

"It really addresses the needs of the whole child which we were really working for and striving for here," she said. "We just needed more time in the day to do that."

The program also means a longer academic year, longer school days, sometimes Saturday school, more mentors, more field trips and school uniforms.

Principal Tolliver's message to parents: "I think I will share with parents this is another avenue to help our students to be successful."

The program is aimed to help 'at risk' students, which the school system says includes single or no parent households and low-income families with possible attendance or discipline problems. Participation starts in July with all incoming students in kindergarten through the second grade. The intention is over the next five years, the entire school will be a part of it. That cost is estimated at $6.5 million over that time, but the money will be raised through a public/private partnership.

"The private part is a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to support the Achievable Dream Academy and of course it will be working with some of our businesses and all as well," says HCPS board representative John Montgomery.

It may be an adjustment for families, but Brand Parker believes that kind of support will be worth it.

"It all depends on what they want their kids to succeed at," she said. "If this is what it's going to take then they need to come on board and give it a try."

Two meetings will be held just for Highland Springs Elementary school students and their families. The first meeting is on Monday, Feb. 6. The second meeting is on Wednesday, Feb. 8. It's at 600 Pleasant Street Highland Springs, VA.

Students do have the option to opt out and can transfer to nearby Fair Oaks Elementary School. All that information will be available at the meeting.

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