There stands in Kentucky a model educational platform for teaching the future. It is called The Falcon Academy. It calls home Hickman County, Kentucky, a county of under 5,000. With 19 people per square mile, it’s the second smallest county of Kentucky’s 120 counties.
Clinton has one stop light, three restaurants, two drug stores, two doctors, two banks, one agriculture credit office, churches and several small businesses. The town’s population is just under 1200. In culture, the town looks a whole lot like a scene from a small town 1950-60 movie set.
It is a place in space and time, where the digital and spatial bricks of innovation, need, strength, vision, community, and opportunity have built a new portal into the 21st Century for rural America teaching success. It is a new highway for moving affordable higher education out into rural America. It is hope for rural families that their children can gain success in life. It will save the art and science of teaching and learning for many colleges. In the grand scheme of education, it is a good thing. It will define a new approach to higher learning through a fusion into progressive high schools. This fusion will be based upon new laws of entrepreneurial education.
Falcon Academy is three years old and already noticed by educators, legislators, and politicians from the White House and US Senate to Frankfort, Kentucky to inside the Board rooms of five universities. Interest in the workings of this educational experiment is growing by the day and hour as more and more professional educators deal with shrinking budgets and more deserving students who struggle to attend college.
Beyond mere walls of concrete blocks and wooden frames, the Falcon Academy program is redefining the space use within this rural high school. College classes are held on the high school campus as well as online, streaming into a classroom setting where a trained and qualified high school staff assists with the course work,
For the young adults, the physical act of learning is now “cool.” College textbooks, professors teaching on their campus plus streaming data and research from the internet gives each student access to the world of imagination and innovation.
Hickman County High School
From the first yearnings of community in the year 1000 A.D. with the Hopewell Mound Builders, the 244 square miles of the county has always been defined by three forces (1) Mississippi River (2) agriculture and (3) higher education. The Mississippi river has always linked the land with the dynamics of empires, conquest, wars, frontiers, and settlers. This was a true edge of Western civilization coming to reality with Native Americans’ concept of land ownership and culture.
That a high school, with a total student population of 352 for grades 7 through 12, to be designing a 21st century model for education, is not surprising. It has happened before. The first high school to be formed west of the Tennessee River was in Clinton, Kentucky. During the 1890’s through 1920, Clinton was called the Athens of the West because of its record of giving birth to three colleges, special learning schools and progressive high schools. Higher learning is in our DNA. It is a part of our frontier spirit.
High School Fusion with College
In this modern world of vast learning potentials and very troubled high schools across America, Hickman County High School has achieved a national presence of high quality ascension through a three year record that includes:
(1) 3rd in Kentucky in college and Career readiness, up from 140th the year before.
(2) Zero dropouts since the program’s implementation
(3) Expectation of over 1100 college hours earned by the end of 2012-2013 school year
(4) Over 2500 college hours earned since implementation 3 years ago.
(5) Nearly a quarter of a million dollars saved by parents of students in this program last year alone.
(6) Average student last year earned 17.5 college hours.
(7)Attendance rate was 96.98% last year, 4th in Kentucky.
The magic of what is happening at Hickman County High School is a fusion of seniors, juniors taking freshmen and sophomore level college courses through a mutual cooperation of parents, sponsors, the local board of education with college and university institutions. This fusion is one of vision and common spirit that says students in poor rural areas can achieve and become part of our nations best and brightest through hard work, determination, and individual true grit.
This fusion started three years ago with just five financial sponsors, now there are 35 putting into the pot over $60,000 dollars of seed money to make the program work. Financial support from the community makes it possible for students to take all their classes at no cost. College textbooks are supplied by the school board and college partners work with the school to make college hours more affordable.
A New Possible future for American Higher Learning
The primary reason that so many educational experts are researching Falcon Academy is that at Hickman County High School, jurors and seniors can now take duel credit high school, college and vocational education courses at the same time. Graduating from high school now also can mean that one is also a college freshman or sophomore and/or one has job training that will lead to employment upon graduation.
For college administrators, this will mean more students will stay in school. They will have already bought into the whole college dream and experience while finishing high school. Now colleges will have vast new pools of new students ready for college work.
The students’ parents also win in this deal. For them and their children, college costs less. College could even become affordable to many students who now must end college in a massive black hole of school debt.
Educational dreamers and risk takers Superintendent Kenny Wilson, Principal Larry Farley, friends like Robbie Rudolph and higher institutions that support the program are carving a modern poor rural area, a real frontier, into a geographical spot where hope, hard work, and early American spirit is once again using partnership to forge a new set of realities based upon common sense.
In the finest traditions of Steve Jobs (inventor of the Apple Computer and the Apple Experience), these leaders of a tiny county, bordering the Mississippi River in a forgotten part of America, may be building and designing the future for all American higher learning. From this humble beginning, history may record that in this place and places like it, 21st Century America finally figured out how to educate its people.