FOLEY - Walking away from the hallways of middle school and entering the halls of high school can be a trying time for any student. For some students, the experience is even worse due to …
FOLEY - Walking away from the hallways of middle school and entering the halls of high school can be a trying time for any student. For some students, the experience is even worse due to circumstances beyond their control. These at-risk students have a drastically lessened chance for graduation when compared to other students their age, but the folks at Foley High School saw only the chance for success. Back in the 2015/16 school year, Principal Russ Moore and Librarian Bernadette Kyle teamed up to begin the “Success Academy” to assist these at-risk students on their path to success.
“I remember the time very well,” said Kyle. “It was at the end of the 2014/2015 school year and Russ Moore called me and said that he saw the way I interacted with the students, the relationships that I had built with them, and the way I welcomed them when they came into the library. What happens often is a lot of students that come in the library don’t want to go to lunch, so third block I opened up the library for lunch. This became those students’ safe haven, students who may have been bullied or that just didn’t feel comfortable in a crowd. They come here and feel safe, and Principal Moore saw that. He said he could see me doing so much more with the students, and asked if I would be interested in meeting with groups of students and helping them out to make sure that they’re successful.”
They began planning during the summer, deciding Kyle would begin with two classes. Together they looked at the oncoming freshman class, checking discipline, attendance, and if a student had outside factors in their homelife that could affect their grades and academic performance. Letters were sent to the parents asking permission to allow their child to participate in the Success Academy, and the inaugural class was built.
“We looked for students that might have needed some extra love, and my personality allows me to be stern but loving,” Kyle said. “The students don’t see it as stern; they know I mean business, but they know I care and they know I’ll go to bat for them. I’ll do whatever I can for them.”
Kyle started with a class of 24 freshmen and has worked with them throughout their entire high school careers. Two students dropped out, one graduated through another program, and one finished a year early. The other 20 graduated on May 14, giving the program a 91.6% success rate of graduating students that had circumstances against them even before beginning high school. Over the last four years, Kyle has worked with these students and helped them to grow and learn to believe in themselves.
“I check over their grades, and I never let them get behind,” said Kyle. “I parented them from school. If a student didn’t do their homework the night before, I was emailing their teacher asking if they could turn the work in for partial credit, and a lot of the time the teachers would say if they could turn the work in that day they’d give them full credit. I started holding these students accountable for their actions and teaching them study skills. I set up a phone number through an app so they could get in touch with me anytime that they needed me. I tried to build a sense of community and family, I built a relationship with these students and they soared.”
Kyle’s students have suffered situations ranging from severe loss, abandonment, low income, discipline problems in middle school, the threat of expulsion, and parents who didn’t graduate and sought help to show their child the importance of a diploma.
“There’s been some sad situations where it’s not even comprehendible how these things could happen to innocent children,” Kyle said. “They just needed somebody. It’s about getting them to believe in themselves and not to focus on the situations that are going on outside of their control, they’ve got to rise above it and break the cycle.”
As Kyle said, it was “the small things” that let the students know someone was in their corner. She’s received letters from her students thanking her for everything she’s done for them, including teaching the students to be responsible to standing in the doorway each day and greeting them individually.
Kyle will be retiring in three years, and is planning to begin a class with the 2019/20 sophomores come the new school year, stating she couldn’t begin with the freshman class and leave them hanging for their final year. Students coming on board once Kyle has retired don’t need to worry though. Her fellow librarian, Chandler Dunaway, is already working with her own class of students and leading them through the Success Academy. She came to work and took on the freshman class starting the year after Kyle’s, making her current students juniors who will be graduating next year.
Kyle doesn’t take credit for the achievements made with her class during these last four years. She cites a greater force at work: “It’s all about the students, it’s all about them,” she said. “During graduation this year some of my parents came to me and cried and said this wouldn’t have been possible without me, but no, it’s the good Lord. This is just God working through me so I can help somebody succeed.”