Unique summer program yields results

Project SOAR helps struggling students reach new heights

Bethlehem High School Assistant Principal Scott Landry has seen his share of hard-to-reach students, but after completing a summertime program combining physical fitness with alternative learning, he says that some of BHS's most frequent offenders are having a dramatically improved school year.

The impetus for Landry's Project SOAR School of Academic Recoverycame from his own experience with a "boot camp" program at the Guilderland YMCA, and he thought he might be able to apply some of those principles to some of the more frequent visitors to his office.

"I have these students who come in and out of my office as the assistance principal," he said. "A lot of them, I noticed this pattern that they had become used to failing, and it had become an expectationI think some of them had just forgotten how to succeed."

His unique approach to this problem involved a summertime program that focused not only on specialized academic instruction, but physical fitness training and teambuilding exercises designed to boost the self-esteem of students.

19 Bethlehem students and six students from the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Central School District gathered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the YMCA's Camp Nassau in Guilderland from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for six weeks over the summer. Landry said the changes he observed were startling, and pointed to empirical data as well.

92 percent of the students who started the program finished, said Landry, and in the first five weeks of the school year attendance rates have improved by 22 percent for the BHS students. Many stopped smoking, are keeping out of trouble at school and have made strides academically, in part thanks to the continued use of NovaNet learning software provided by Capital Region BOCES.

"I can't say enough about how hard these kids worked," Landry said. "I look at these kids and it was really amazing to watch the transition of where they were at the start to where they were at the end."

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