Belden Center for Academic Growth focuses on pupils who are struggling

BELDEN – A new approach has made extra help available for struggling students in the Lee County school system.
The district created the Belden Center for Academic Growth this year, turning the building that formerly housed the district’s alternative school into a place where students who have fallen behind can receive special attention in a small-class setting.
The center has 40 students in grades five through nine. Those students, who have either failed two grades or fallen two years behind as determined by assessment tests, have made a one-year commitment to study at the Belden Center.
The Belden Center for Academic Growth is a different building than Itawamba Community College’s Belden Center.
Lee County’s Belden Center has seven certified teachers and one assistant teacher. The average class size is 10 students, Principal Emily Pulliam said.
“We’re working with some kids who have fallen behind and helping them get where they need to be,” said learning strategies teacher Luther Minor. “We’re trying to find everything in the arsenal and to do whatever it takes.”
The school’s learning strategies class is one way of doing whatever it takes.
Instead of instruction in a traditional subject like English, math or science, the class teaches methods to help students learn better in all subjects.
For instance, Minor spent last week teaching the students how to summarize passages by writing the main idea and important details.
“I believe this is going to be a good model for education in the area,” Minor said.
The new school is just over a month old, but teachers have seen improvements in their students already.
Among the most noticeable changes has been the students’ self-confidence. They are either more comfortable answering questions in class or are starting to believe in their ability to succeed.
Eighth-grader Shayla Underwood was recently named a star student, a type of honor she said she hadn’t received in years.
“I was proud of myself,” Underwood said. “The school is better for me because it is smaller and I can pay attention more in small groups of people. I’m learning better here.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The school uses assessment tests to determine the students’ level and the progress they are making.
They also use programs like Read 180, which measures a student’s reading level as he or she advances.
Within the program, students rotate from computer stations to independent stations where they must read books on their level to small group stations where four students work with teacher Angela Hall.
“The students are beginning to feel more sure of themselves,” Hall said. “I’ve seen them take more risks and speak up more in class. Before they wouldn’t raise their hand to answer questions and now they volunteer to read.”
Carmon Edwards Horner, who teaches social studies to seventh- through ninth-graders and serves as a school counselor, said she was eager to get involved with the new school when it was created.
“I wanted to come here because I believe there are no throw-away students,” Horner said.
The building still houses an improvement center or alternative school, which is housed at the opposite end of the building from the academic center. Pulliam said 10 students are in that program.
Pulliam, who had been principal of the improvement center for the last three years, said the addition of the academic center has gone well.
“There are a lot of changes we’re having to implement but we’re excited about it,” Pulliam said. “It will really help with our dropout prevention.”

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal