The students refer to them as Fun Fridays, but the teaching staff at Ascension Leadership Academy know they are much, much more.
Every Friday, the students participate in an activity outside of the regular academic curriculum. For the students, it’s a fun change from academic subjects of language arts, math, science, and history. Students do not realize, more often than not, course of study standards are being fully infused within the activities.
On one Friday last fall, this meant a field trip to Tigers for Tomorrow at Untamed Mountain, an animal preserve near Attalla, AL. This preserve, at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, is a permanent home to more than 175 animals, most of whom are predatory animals that were discarded when their owners could no longer keep them. The preserve provides a lifelong home to these animals and runs active education and preservation programs. For the students at Ascension Leadership, it was a chance to learn about the various species, their place in the world, and conservation efforts. A strong emphasis was placed on the students’ roles in managing environmental issues that will preserve the future of many of the animals they saw.
Other Fridays stay closer to home, teaching fun skills such as acting and painting using volunteers from the community.
“We could never offer this variety on a full-time basis or without the help of our volunteers,” says Education Director Linda Harris. “The students also tell us what they would like to learn and we try to find someone who can help us meet that challenge.
Schedules at the school are designed so that the requirements for instruction and earning credits are met in just four days a week, leaving one day a week available for electives. While lessons of leadership, citizenship, service, and participation are included in all of the school’s classes, Fun Fridays give an extra chance to emphasize these qualities both in and out of the classroom.
Perhaps most important to the program at Ascension Leadership Academy is the effect it has on behavior. Students earn points every day for appropriate behavior and completion of academic requirements. Only those meeting a specific threshold participate in Fun Fridays. It’s proven to be a powerful incentive to maintaining expected behavior and academic performance from the students.
“The first time a student does not meet the threshold, and has to complete academic work all day instead of participating in a field trip or fun event, they quickly resolve to never let that happen again,” says Linda Harris, Director of Education.
At a time when many larger schools are forced to discontinue enrichment programs, Ascension Leadership Academy has found a way to include and enlarge these programs. This is accomplished by a creative approach to scheduling, using volunteer resources, and involving the students in the planning process. It’s a win for everybody