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Warrior Academy a success so far

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Math is tough for freshman Emily Irion. She can’t keep up in class so she zones it all out.

But a new initiative at Brainerd High School (BHS) is helping Irion stay on track with the subject.

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It’s called Warrior Academy.

It’s a specialized program that takes students who are having trouble in particular mainstream classes and pulls them into a separate online platform.

Warrior Academy is geared mostly toward ninth-graders, though some eighth- and 10th-graders participate.

Warrior Academy is the bridge into mainstream classes that the district has been missing for that age group, said Erin Litzinger, Warrior Academy teacher.

Middle schoolers have the Mid-Level Alternative Program (MLAP), which is for grades five through eight, and the 10th- through 12th-graders have the Brainerd Learning Center.

When the middle-schoolers leave that small, close-knit group of 15 students at MLAP for the larger group of 500 students at the high school, it can be hard to adjust, Litzinger said.

“There was no support for (the ninth graders),” said Jackie Extrand, a school counselor who monitors student progress in Warrior Academy. “It was frustrating because that’s the age where there’s the most difficulty in the academic and social aspects.”

With no program to aid the students in the transition, some left BHS for charter or online schools. That number got as high as 13 students leaving BHS in each of the school years of 2010-11 and 2011-12.

This year, that number had dropped to five. School leaders say that could be thanks to the Warrior Academy.

About 35 students have taken part in the Warrior Academy since it started at the beginning of the year. The goal is to eventually get each of the students back into mainstream classes.

Inside the Warrior Academy classroom, which is located at BHS South Campus, students use online courses to go at their own pace. Science labs, algebra worksheets and books for English are also included.

Courses include: math, physical science, biology, language arts, civics, geometry, world history, geography and Spanish.

Students still take extracurricular classes in the mainstream setting.

The idea for the Warrior Academy first sparked about two years ago when Extrand and BHS principal Andrea Rusk approached district administration. They wanted a program to help keep those at-risk students in school and on track. They wanted a program for the ninth-graders, who had no other similar resources.

It was rolled out for the first time at the beginning of this year. Already, there’s been progress, staff say.

Five sophomores completed eight credits during the first semester. Several are now on track to complete the year with full credits.

For some of the students, it’s the first time they are seeing academic success, Litzinger said.

It’s not because the work is easier, she said. Instead, the students are able to work at their own pace in an environment that’s non-intimidating, and they have Litzinger there to work with them should they need help.

Like any new program, Warrior Academy will be evaluated after two years so officials can measure its success.

Extrand says hopefully it will be a permanent fixture in the school.

“It’s been a miracle to see. It’s like night and day,” she said of student progress.

Success is measured in small victories, as well. Such as students feeling comfortable raising their hands to ask questions, when they never used to in the past. Or Litzinger making a call home to report an achievement, often the first good call home some parents received. Or just getting the student inside the door.

The Warrior Academy can have a big impact on the community, as well, Litzinger said.

“It keeps (students) in a safe environment,” she said.

Extrand added, “It makes them life-long learners.”

Irion is more optimistic about her math when she’s in Warrior Academy.

“There’s no struggle to catch up,” she said. “If I have to struggle to catch up, I give up hope.”

Without that added stress of a class she’s falling behind in, Irion can concentrate more on her honor English course.

“(Warrior Academy) has helped me and a lot of my friends,” she said. “Eventually I’ll have to move into mainstream math, but this is a stepping stone.”

JESSICA LARSEN may be reached at jessica.larsen@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/brainerdnews.

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