A secondary learning academy operating under a new name and location opened its doors in early November serving Charlottesville’s public high school-age students.
The Lugo-McGinness Academy, the alternative education center for Charlottesville City Schools, provides a more intimate setting for students who, because of conduct, may need smaller classes that teach educational and community building skills.
“We are here to help students get their high school education and see a better way in the world,” said program director Stephanie Carter.
The open house and ribbon cutting for the Academy took place last week at the new location at 341 11th Street NW. This location replaces the former name and location called the Henry Avenue Learning Center.
The building was purchased earlier this year by the City of Charlottesville.
Beth Cheuk, the community relation’s liaison for Charlottesville City Schools said in an email that they were previously in a facility that they were just leasing.
“Now we are in a facility that creates a more positive school climate,” said Cheuk.
The new facility features a library, lunch space, outdoor space and gymnasium.
“It’s nice having the large field outside so students have the opportunity to get their energy out in a positive way,” said Carter.
Students at the academy are those with a very serious discipline infraction or a series of discipline infractions.
“We serve students who come from detention or for whatever reason have come here and are more successful in a smaller environment and choose to stay,” said Carter.
Students are referred to the Academy, work through the Academy’s level system, and then are recommended to stay or go back to Charlottesville High School.
“For us, the recommendation is if we see they have demonstrated the ability to be productive in school, regulate themselves, and if they feel ready to go back,” said Carter.
The Academy currently assists 23 students in ninth- twelfth grade. Some are full day students but others are part time and leave early for work. Carter says that the Academy’s focus is on preparing students for the workforce and life beyond high school.
“We have a point system here that’s all based on job skills,” explained Carter.
Students have the opportunity to move up to different levels if they are responsible with their education, being a community member, being respectful, maintaining personal space and following directions.
“Those five expectations help students hone their soft skills,” said Carter. “We also teach them to self regulate and work on their own behavior so if they want to go back to the high school they will be successful in that environment.”
When students demonstrate good behavior, they can participate in sports at Charlottesville High School. Carter says this helps with the transition back to the high school since they will be more familiar with their surroundings.
“Since Charlottesville High School is pretty small, a lot of students already know each other, but our students are sometimes nervous going back because the structure provided here is so much different than the structure at the high school.”
Carter said they work hard to help their students prepare for transitioning by taking them to the high school for visits and letting them get to know their counselor and administration prior to return.
A class size at the academy averages 5-8 students so they receive more attention from their teacher. There are four teachers and an online learning manager providing students with a blended format of face-to-face instruction and online learning.
“It’s a blessing to have this new amazing school so the students know they are valued,” said English teacher Cindy Nelson.
With a focus on helping students receive their high school diploma from Charlottesville High School and teaching them how to be a part of a school community, Carter said they are working everyday to live up to the examples of the two women the Academy is named for.
Lugo taught Charlottesville schools the same time the schools desegregated and just after African-American neighborhoods were razed in the name of 1960s-era urban renewal. She served 11 years on the City School Board, including five years as chairwoman. She was also highly involved with numerous local nonprofits.
McGinness taught in Charlottesville for 47 years in the time leading up to desegregation. She was an active civil rights leader, and a community advocate, starting many civic groups that still carry out her legacy today.
McGinness’ popular words of advice were, “You can excel regardless of any obstacles.”