(Clinton KY, August 14, 2012) – Superintendent Kenny Wilson launched the third year of Falcon Academy at an event billed as The Falcon Academy Celebration. The school hosted over one hundred parents, representatives of higher education and sponsors to gather in the gymnasium of Hickman County High School for speeches, recognitions, cookies and punch.
Wilson began the program by telling the audience that Kentucky Commissioner of Education Dr. Terry Holliday called Falcon Academy the No. 1 dual credit program in the state of Kentucky when he visited Hickman County a week ago. That’s high praise coming to a small rural school system with fewer than 350 students in the high school.
In 2010, school administrators began Falcon Academy with three goals: the curriculum at the high school would become more rigorous; the program would be at no charge to students for books or tuition and every student would be involved. Wilson pronounces those goals are being met.
He told students, parents and supporters that the curriculum had become more rigorous. A brochure of college classes scheduled for this year was distributed. Classes ranging from General Psychology to English 101 to Field Applications in Agriculture to College Algebra are being offered. Three area institutions, Murray State University, Western Kentucky Community and Technical College and Mid-Continent University, partner with the school to offer the classes. Some classes are taught by college faculty, others by cross trained and qualified high school teachers.
Students take college credit classes at the high school. They can also take classes at the area voc- tech school in Hickman that Hickman County shares with Fulton County and Fulton City Schools. The voc-tech school prepares students for jobs following high school. For example, last year, seven students graduated as certified nursing assistants. Other students are certified in areas with jobs waiting, like welding. Ingram Barge which operates a repair facility ten miles away has openings for welders.
That means, Wilson said, “That they can go anywhere and get a job.”
Students are graduating with significant numbers of college credit hours, enough that many will spend only one semester as a freshman.
In the first year, 54 seniors graduated with 777 credit hours. In the second year, 48 seniors earned 842 hours. This year, the program is allowing juniors to take classes. Wilson expects between 1050 and 1150 college credit hours to be earned. All at no charge to students for fees or books. The Hickman County School Board supplies the books. Tuition funds are provided by local sponsoring businesses and individuals. The post secondary institutions help by lowering the cost of a credit hour, improving affordability.
The seeds of Falcon Academy were planted in Hickman County High School in the fall of 2010 when the stars aligned to bring together Kenny Wilson and Fulton County native Robbie Rudolph together. Rudolph lives in Calloway County and is owner of Rudolph Tire Company. The two met at a conference at the area voc - tech school.
That day, Rudolph told local school officials of Fulton and Hickman County that he wanted to help students improve their educational opportunities. Rudolph’s Four Rivers Scholarship Program is the multi faceted idea he pitched. The Four Rivers Scholarship Program provides books to elementary students, sponsors career fairs, supports college visits and provides scholarship money for higher education.
Three years later, Rudolph said a promise was made that no student would be deprived of college because of money. This semester, Four Rivers has written 120 checks for kids in college.
Dual credit courses are not unusual, according to MSU President Dr. Randy Dunn, who came to Clinton with members of his staff that have worked closely with Falcon Academy and Dr. Jack Rose, a faculty member and MSU board member well known to Hickman County educators. What is unusual, according to Dunn, is the level of community support and the student involvement in the program.
Dunn said that he agrees with Dr. Barbara Veazey, President of West Kentucky Community and Technical College, when she said that it is not a major concern that students choose a school other than their own. A noble unselfish sentiment he shared. Then he added “Go Racers!” bringing a laugh to the crowd.
Dr. Veazey, whose WKCTC was named the number 2 community college in the nation, said that the goal she saw in programs like Falcon Academy is partnership.
“The greater good is that our students need to go on to post secondary education.”
Falcon Academy has brought a change in student behaviors. From over 800 discipline referrals to the office, a little over 300 were received last year. Student achievement has soared. Compared to nine other regional schools in PLAN scores (ACT testing), Hickman County ranks second overall, finishing behind Murray Independent. Hickman County came in first in English, second in science and tied for third with Calloway County in reading. The school exceeded state benchmarks in every category.
Parents have a role to play in education. Wilson said those who doubted Hickman County students’ ability to succeed did not understand the work ethic children learn at home in this rural community. “Always remember.” He said. “We need your help.”
Dr. Robert Imhoff of Mid-Continent University spoke of being a transplant to the area from the University of Michigan. He told students and parents that they are in a place to receive a world class education.
After the program, parents expressed their agreement. Several wished they had Falcon Academy when they were students. Others mentioned the lift it has given their children and the community.
The hard work of taking college classes in high school is beginning in this small rural town with celebration and applause. That doesn’t happen everywhere.