Give them credit: RTHS-affiliated academy helps students to catch up

Rantoul Township High School's Eagle Academy is located on Borman Drive on the former Chanute Air Force grounds. The academy was formed to help those students who have fallen behind in their credits needed to graduate.

RANTOUL — For Lee Cokeley, Eagle Academy is a better place to learn than the larger Rantoul Township High School.

“It’s more calm and a safer environment for me,” Cokeley said.

“I love the teachers. They’re always helping students to make sure we’re caught up and to prepare for our future success.”

Cokeley is attending his first semester at Eagle Academy.

The race goes to the swift. But some need to catch up. That’s what Eagle Academy, operated by RTHS, is all about. But it can be difficult to make up credits if all of the students in a class are ahead of you.

Cokeley has dreams of becoming an artist and wants to study art at Parkland College. He showed a graphic novel he is working on.

Fernando Ortiz has been at Eagle Academy for about three weeks.

A native of Puerto Rico, after leaving there, he first moved to New York before coming to Rantoul.

Three students Eagle Academy

Adrian Gonzalez, from left, Breana Hageman and Lee Cokeley, students at Eagle Academy, discuss a survey they were working on last week. The academy, under the umbrella of Rantoul Township High School, is for students who have fallen behind in their credits.

“Mucho bien” (very good), he said of his thoughts of being enrolled at the academy.

Ortiz speaks only Spanish. Translators are available to help Spanish-speaking students.

“I feel more confident here than at (RTHS),” Ortiz said through translator Nancy Reyes. “I have a lot more help, like one to one, and it’s more peaceful, more quiet.”

Also a senior, Ortiz said his career goal is to be a mechanic and to paint cars.

Lead teacher Mindy Moberg has a wall of fame of sorts showing former students who have gone through Eagle Academy — many of whom would not have graduated were it not for the help they received there. More than 800 students have earned a diploma through the benefit of the academy.

Like family

They become like family, Moberg said, and many come back to see the Eagle Academy staff. They are grateful for the help they received. Moberg said many of those who went through the academy — established 13 years ago — would have dropped out of high school otherwise.

In her previous life, Moberg was a social worker and said “14 to 15 years ago,” she saw many students “we felt fell through the cracks. We felt if we just had this program. ...”

The program started small in a nook at the high school with a secretary who sat in the hall and a little area for instruction. Eleven years ago, Eagle Academy moved into its present location on Borman Drive on the former Chanute Air Force Base.

Moberg said the new location has three classrooms, three offices, a lab area, large kitchen (meals are brought in from the high school) and additional space. An area outdoors is available for basketball during breaks.

Students are helped in a variety of ways. Some are there for the duration of the school day from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Others are only there for the after-school program. Some attend summer school.

“The common denominator is they’re behind in credits for a variety of reasons,” said Eagle Academy Principal Megan Anderson, who is also assistant principal in charge of curriculum and instruction at RTHS. “Some have challenging family lives. Some are parents. It’s difficult to balance school and parenting. We have some students who, their freshman year, thought they were having a really good time in school and didn’t pay attention in class.”

Anderson said some students have anxiety about large spaces such as the RTHS main campus and function better in a small environment.

While Eagle Academy is an alternative school, it is not a place where students who have behavioral issues are sent for correction.

“We’ve had kids who have wreaked havoc at the high school,” but once they’re placed there, they don’t cause any problems, Moberg said. That’s not to say it’s a cure-all. There have been some loud disagreements, but not often, Moberg said.

“We treat them as young adults, and we expected to be treated with respect in return. It’s a three-strike program. We’re zero tolerance for violence. In 13 years, we have only had three incidents” involving fights, Moberg said.

More one-on-one time

The academy offers more one-on-one time and allows staff a means to monitor the students’ learning and pacing.

“A student who is merely not functioning because they cannot behave in a regular classroom will probably not be successful in this program,” Anderson said.

There are currently 13 full-time students during the day plus additional after-school students. Nine students are on the waiting list for the after-school program.

It takes 28 1/2 hours of credit to graduate from RTHS. In at least one instance, a student made up 20 credits by attending Eagle Academy.

Some students who catch up go back to the main high school, but on at least one occasion a student decided she wanted to return to Eagle Academy because it gave her a better chance to succeed.

Some go back to main high school

“Some transition back to the high school,” Moberg said. “It’s a low percentage. “We had six return the second semester, and they so far have been successful. We check their grades every Friday.”

On Thursday, students were interviewing one another for a survey they were tasked with filling out.

An average of 43 percent of each graduating class since its inception has used Eagle Academy.

Four full-time staff are there to teach.

Moberg does all of the transcript evaluations with the students’ RTHS counselor and creates their schedule. She also does social work at the academy.

“Most of the kids require at least some type of social work,” Moberg said.

Classes change every 45 minutes. At any given time, about half of the students are in a traditional teacher-taught class while the rest are in a lab, where one person might be doing work in biology while the person next to him or her might be doing business math.

A few students graduate early, but typically they don’t.

“The goal is to get them caught up, not to get them ahead,” Moberg said.

Eagle Academy personnel work with RTHS counselors during the school year. At the end of the winter semester, they looked at the transcripts of all students who failed a class and who are behind. They were encouraged to apply for the academy.

“They can either (enroll) for after-school or a full-time spot,” Moberg said. “They work with counselors, then they have interviews.”

The students are not required to attend the academy. It’s a program of choice.

“The success of the program is in large part due to that because if a kid ... is not meeting expectations, they can go back to the high school,” Moberg said.

The success rate is high (about 90 percent). One year, however, there was an unusually high number of 11 terminations. Moberg said the academy hasn’t had 11 more in all of its history.

Eagle Academy students are able to participate in all of the extracurricular activities students at the main campus participate in — ranging from basketball to prom. The same rules apply. They have to meet the required grade  point average and exhibit good behavior.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com