Students from Rougher Alternative Academy volunteer to walk dogs for the local animal shelter as one of their service learning projects. The Rougher Alternative Academy has been named the recipient of the 2014 Oklahoma Award for Outstanding Achievement in Alternative Education by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence.
The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence has named the Rougher Alternative Academy of Muskogee as the recipient of its 2014 Oklahoma Award for Outstanding Achievement in Alternative Education. The $5,000 award will be presented July 15 at the Oklahoma State Department of Education Vision 2020 Conference.
The academy serves more than 100 students in seventh through 12th grades who have not been successful in traditional school settings. Founded in 1994 as the Muskogee Alternative Placement School, the program was re-named the Rougher Alternative Academy four years ago by then new-director Larry Sholes and Superintendent Mike Garde to focus on the positive contributions the academy makes in students’ lives.
“The ultimate goal of the school is to transform students identified as at-risk or not-graduating into lifelong learners prepared for success in the 21st century,” said Melony Carey, director of Secondary Education for Muskogee Public Schools, who nominated the program for the award.
Its mission statement for students is simple, she said, “What we are doing here is important. We believe you can do it. We are not going to give up on you!”
One major focus of the Rougher Alternative Academy is character development. The academy teaches life skills and uses principles of character education developed through the Character Education Partnership, a national nonprofit education organization. Strategies have included peer mentoring, community service projects, fostering student self-motivation, and encouraging community and family involvement in the school. Rougher Alternative Academy has been so successful in its character development programming that it was named one of 29 National Schools of Character for 2013. The academy is the only alternative program in Oklahoma to achieve the national honor.
“Instrumental in their achieving this award is the idea of stewardship of the community and increasing students’ caring for others,” Carey said. To this end, the school has developed a partnership with the local animal shelter, where students volunteer to groom and walk pets. The school also has a Character Club, which brings in motivational speakers and sponsors service projects, and a partnership with Girl Scouts to provide an anti-bullying program.
As part of its character-building strategies, the academy also offers experiential learning opportunities, including an on-site high ROPES challenge course and an annual trip to the Ozarks, where students rappel off a 200-foot bluff in the Buffalo River National Forest. The ROPES course training “challenges students both physically and mentally to learn that they are capable of much more than they ever dreamed,” Carey added.
The academy employs three counselors who serve both students and their parents. The school strives to include parents in the success of their students, from hosting an open house for families at the beginning of the school year to communicating regularly with parents about student progress.
Rougher Alternative Academy teachers have all been trained using Literacy First, a researched-based curriculum to improve vocabulary, reading comprehension and critical thinking skills. Teachers combine best classroom practices with a foundation in Ruby Payne strategies, which address the needs of students growing up in generational poverty. Students also participate in the district’s digital conversion, in which all students in grades seven through 12 are loaned a computer loaded with textbooks and resources. The district-wide conversion was made possible through a $44 million bond issue.
In its 2012-13 alternative education evaluation by the Oklahoma Technical Assistance Center, Rougher Alternative Academy received a perfect score. The assessment praised its extensive counseling services; service-learning opportunities; academic structures consistent throughout the building; and its school-wide professional learning community, which meets weekly to assess the progress of each student.
Lauren Obregon, a student and Character Club member, said she has gone from making failing grades to making straight As since she began attending the school. “I have learned so much from this school,” she said. “I have learned that I am an important person and that no matter what anyone says, or no matter what happens, I can achieve all that I put my mind to.”
“The care this school places into each student’s education is having an impact that is truly life changing,” Carey said. “In this program, students become stewards of themselves and our community.”
The Oklahoma Award for Outstanding Achievement in Alternative Education is one of the many program offerings of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, a statewide nonprofit that recognizes and encourages academic excellence in Oklahoma’s public schools. For more information, visit www.ofe.org.