Offering Electives In Fourth Year

Published 3:19 pm Tuesday, August 23, 2011

CUMBERLAND – Bear Creek Academy, a therapeutic alternative school in Cumberland County, is evolving with every student that walks through its doors, according to Ben Montano, the school's director of therapeutic services. The school is starting its fourth year and a lot has changed since its inception.

“In four years the Bear Creek Academy curriculum, which offers all transferable credits, continues to expand and can be described as flexible, effective, and highly engaging,” he recently offered to The Herald. “We are proud that several students have passed their Standards of Learning tests (SOLs) as we have been able to serve seven counties to date including Buckingham, Cumberland, Powhatan, Prince Edward, Henrico, Goochland, and Loudoun…”

This past year students were able to take advantage of a foreign language, Montano offered.

“This past year we offered Spanish…,” he said. “Especially at the end of the semester where they practiced social skills and their new language skills, venturing out for lunch at Farmville's La Parota Mexican Restaurant. We work closely with each school division to accommodate their academic requirements of each individual student. We push for our students to continue to progress academically and mature to set them up to succeed as they become eligible to return to the public school.”

The Academy's goal, Montano reiterated, “is to provide a balance of academics, counseling, and vocational outlets to strengthen our students in a multidimensional way as they meet their personal goals.”

Another new elective being offered to students is Life Prep I & II, which has combined lessons related to character development and independent living skills.

“The students practice skills needed to become employed and various life skills,” Montano explained. “We have had field trips at the Public Broadcasting Comcast Studio where students operated cameras and editing equipment as well as created a short program that they produced. We visited Shalom Farms in Goochland County where students learned the value of healthy foods that are cultivated by farming and the importance of self-sustainability. The class also visited John Tyler Community College, Longwood University, and local technical job locations to gain exposure to cooking skills as well as the process of obtaining a job. They produce therapeutic skits designed to reinforce positive social skills and character traits.”

Students are also involved with other programs, such as the Job Club led by Angela Edmonds from the Department of Rehabilitation who meets with the students individually and as a group, Montano noted.

Bear Creek Academy also sponsors job internships for the seniors, locally, through placements with places such as Kinex and Bear Creek Lake State Park.

“Students have climbed and rappelled to new heights of self-esteem each year on the 60-foot alpine towers located in the region,” he said about the adventurers programs offered through the school.

The school's ecology class, which is also a new opportunity for the students, welcomed a presentation on land-use from Alecia Daves-Johnson, a planner for Prince Edward County this past spring.

“We believe that real life exposure to the work world and the interaction of local professionals increase the depth of our instruction and learning process,” he said.

This past year, Bear Creek also graduated one senior who overcame a great deal of adversity to obtain his degree, Montano noted.

“He worked part-time throughout the year and faced several challenges in his life,” he said. “We are extremely proud to have five graduating seniors in our fourth year of operation. These students have overcome several obstacles to reach this point. We believe a Bear Creek Academy student who can turn their trial and tribulations into stepping stones and regain a foothold will be stronger and more resilient by exhibiting perseverance and tenacity,” Montano described about the challenges that many students face throughout their time at Bear Creek Academy.

While enrolled, students also receive the necessary special education accommodations and are prepared for the real world challenges that many of them will face once out of school.

“This concept is practiced in the Bear Creek Academy Conservation Corps based in FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps,” Montano explained. “The concept of CCC was born out of the Great Depression and recruited young men who needed a way of means and an internal sense of self-worth.”

On most Wednesdays during the school year, students volunteer through work projects and maintenance jobs at Bear Creek Lake State Park.

“We have logged over 1,500 hours,” noted Montano about the volunteer work conducted at the park. “We also utilize community resources such as working closely in programs provided by Linda Eanes, the local Cumberland 4-H extension agent.”

To better serve students this past year, a specialized elective was introduced called Building Trades and Construction.

Stacy Yoder joined the faculty and brought 13 years of experience as a certified vocational teacher, noted Montano.

“Students showed enthusiasm as they learned basic woodworking skills and techniques to create a solid foundation for building and construction,” he said. “Students crafted small book shelves and will continue to design and construct new projects created from wood as well as learn a wide range of carpentry techniques. Students made plaques that were used in presentations at graduation and built a solar cooker. They have repaired school furniture and operate manual wood working and power tools.”

Several students have also worked in a personal finance course, explained Montano, while citing that several of the older students “have pulled us that way,” noting the flexible exploratory curriculum.

Bear Creek Academy's new school year started on Monday August 15.

The school is located in the Cumberland Community Center on Route 60 and is also a Department of Education-approved site for instruction on and GED testing. For more information about the school visit www.bearcreekacademy.org or call the school at (804) 492-9940.