MILTON — There is a choice in education for students needing academic help or having behavioral issues in public school. It is the Learning Academy of Santa Rosa. The school, under principal Kara Lay-Whitney, accepts students in 6th through 12th grade.
"They come here to learn," Lay-Whitney said.
Half the students attend by choice due to falling behind academically, being academically delayed, or having trouble passing standardized tests. Referred students attend for academic reasons and disciplinary issues.
Most of the students are impoverished in some form, according to Lay-Whitney. A person can be poor financially as well as poor, for example, in the way of manners. She said many of her students did not know their behavior was inappropriate. They have not been taught.
The school focuses on getting these students a plan for their lives to make them feel they have some control. The Learning Academy does this through education, discipline, direction and tough love, according to Lay-Whitney.
"If they take two credit-recovery courses and don't make it, the Learning Academy can help them," Lay-Whitney said. The school labs help teach to the individual student and can teach to specifics areas of concern, she said.
The school has strict rules.
"We don't do phones, or tablets," Lay-Whitney said. "Social media is of the devil. They check all that stuff in, in the mornings, so there is no drama throughout they day."
The school does not tolerate bullying. Much of the bullying happens through those electronic platforms, according to Lay-Whitney.
"You get up, you dress up, you look up, you show up," Lay-Whitney says she tells her students.
The school seeks to instill pride in students for what they are doing at the school, according to Lay-Whitney. She wants students to feel accomplishment in graduating. Her first year, three students graduated. Last year, 26 did.
Lay-Whitneyis strict and manages with discipline, but describes herself as a Grinch that turns into Santa Clause at Christmas. When Whitney-Lay became principal seven years ago she gave small bags of candy to students at Christmas to let them know someone cared.
Last year, with the help of Lead Academy, Walgreens, Walmart, CVS and others students received book-bags filled with blankets and toiletries, socks — the item students requested most — notes from teachers and candy. The school accepts donations throughout the year.
"I'll be here as long as they'll have me," Lay-Whitney said. "I pray that God leads me in the direction that I'm supposed to be in. I feel that there a lot of kids out there that we still need to help."