New program gets suspended students exercising, keeps them in class

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comAugust 12, 2012 

Students who normally would face suspension at Robert Smalls Middle School will have a new option -- an early wake-up call, exercise and time with an adult mentor.

The new SWEAT Academy will be used at the school this year to try to prevent students from missing class because of bad behavior.

Principal Denise Smith said the school analyzed test scores and found that students with an average of three suspensions scored significantly lower than their peers on the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards.

"When you have even more out-of-school suspensions, the scores continue to go down," Smith said.

By keeping students in class and adding a 5:30 a.m. workout at the school and lunch with teachers and other staff and community volunteers, Smith hopes to see students' scores rise.

"I always say you cannot learn while you're out in the hall -- at least, not the things I want you to learn," Smith said.

The program is modeled on the STAR Academy, which has been used in other parts of the state and Georgia. District officials say they have visited schools that use the program, which targets kids at risk of dropping out, and have discussed it for several years.

Seventh- and eighth-grade students will be offered the option of attending SWEAT Academy rather than several days of in- or out-of-school suspension. The program won't be offered to students who have committed violent offenses, Smith said. It also won't be available for repeat offenders.

Student services chief Gregory McCord said the program fits his goal of increasing character education in the schools.

"Students will learn how to have more self-control," McCord said. "It will teach kids how to do away with impulsivity and to be more in control of their thoughts and actions."

The district will monitor the number of suspensions and test scores of the participants to determine its success. Another vital component will be the relationship students develop with teachers and adults serving as mentors, McCord said.

"Whenever teachers and students have the opportunity to get together to do something outside of the norm, that's really where you get more bang for the buck," he said.

If it works, McCord said, other schools might implement it.

Smith expects to see results from SWEAT.

"The hope is that they'll begin to learn, 'I don't have to make these choices,'" she said.

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