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Officials say Leadership Academies prepare freshmen

By Staff | Aug 22, 2019

Freshmen students within the school district are becoming better acclimated with the culture of high school through a program taught by JROTC instructors, district officials say.

The Leadership Academy program is offered as both an elective and a requirement, depending on the school

Mariner High School Principal Dr. Thomas Michael said the program has evolved throughout the years.

The academy is a spin off of an earlier program, where all freshmen students were separated to one side of the high school. A Freshman Academy was created before the program took another step once staff found it was better to hone in on skills the kids needed rather than separate them from the whole school.

In 2013, JROTC instructors stepped forward and started the Anchor Program, which was for 9th grade students, Michael said. Now in its third year, the 9th grade Leadership Academy is a staple program at Mariner High School.

“It covers all kinds of aspects of what a young ninth grader needs to know coming into high school,” he said.

The two instructors for the Leadership Academy are both retired military. One was a Golden Apple winner, the other recognized in the top 6.

“They are my best teachers,” Michael said, adding that they are hands-on, problem- solving instructors.

This year there is a new curriculum the instructors are following. One of those topics is studying and test taking — how to take notes, review information and get away from anxiety.

There is a vast array of topics the leadership covers for the freshmen students.

Those include graduation, AP classes, dual enrollment, code of conduct, sample tests, making choices, behavior and a five- year plan of what the young students will do once they graduate from high school. In addition, representatives from Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida SouthWestern College come to the school to talk to the students, as do career specialists and counselors from Mariner High School.

Michael said the curriculum also helps in boosting involvement in the school, whether it’s through other academies, clubs, and sports.

The Leadership Academy also shows students how to write letters, have the proper etiquette when going out to dinner and how to have a proper conversation with friends and adults. Other areas of focus include applying for a first job and how to write a resume.

Michael said the academy provides students a lot of skills to choose from while they are so young.

“It’s really a wonderful program. The kids seem to know the pulse of the school. They feel confident whether they stay, or move forward in the program,” he said.

One of the biggest outcomes he sees from the Leadership Academy falls into the achievement level of 9th grade students in English Language Arts.

“It’s one of the top improvements in ELA. They do a lot of writing. All of the gains that I saw came out of my 9th graders last year. I see a lot of really confident kids,” he said. “They are more confident. They seem to understand what is going on more.”

Although some of the students stay in the JROTC program, Michael said most of the students go and take AP classes, or dual enrollment and do well in high school.

This year, Mariner High School has 381 freshmen, 281 of whom are in the Leadership Academy.

“It’s the culture of the school and we support it fully. It’s invaluable,” he said of the Leadership Academy.

With Mariner High School being on a block schedule, the students have one period for Leadership Academy every other day.

The remaining 100 freshmen students are enrolled in AP Human Geography.

Michael said when students fill out their registration form they can select the Leadership Academy, or AP Human Geography.

The other high schools in the district that offer the Leadership Academy as an elective include Bonita Springs High School, Dunbar High School, Cypress Lake High School, East Lee County High School and Lehigh Senior.

Students who attend high school at North Fort Myers, Ida S. Baker High School, Cape Coral High School and Fort Myers High School are enrolled in the academy.

Fort Myers High School Principal Dr. Robert Butz said this is the first year the school has offered the Leadership Academy, which is taught by JROTC instructors. He said freshmen students are enrolled in the academy because of House Bill 1147, which requires that all students are exposed to a character development curriculum.

“The House Bill 1147 says it is a requirement to expose this type of curriculum. The Leadership Academy helps fit the need,” Butz said.

There are a little more than 200 freshmen students at Fort Myers High School.

The academy includes such areas as leadership skills, soft skills, such as handshakes and looking in someone’s eyes while talking, as well as preparing a resume, and goal setting.

Butz, who started the Leadership Academy at Mariner High School when he was the principal, said within the first two or three years of doing the program, they saw a 56 percent reduction in 9th grade students failing a class their first year.

“It offers another level of intervention. These instructors are contacting other teachers,” he said.

Another reduction was seen in 9th grade referrals, a 35 percent reduction in disciplinary action.