PICKENS — The Pickens County Youth Leadership Academy tries to provide a unique learning experience for its students through a one-on-one learning environment.
Receiving its charter from the South Carolina Board of Education three years ago, YLA has seen competition for its limited seats for students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grade range grow, just as the academy itself has done.
“We’re the only charter school in Pickens County,” Executive Director Patsy Smith said. “We have 48 slots open for the fall of 2014, and if it’s like past years, who gets those seats will be determined by lottery.”
So what is it that’s such a draw for local families to choose YLA? According to TAP Master Teacher Sandee Blankenship, it’s the one-on-one environment.
“With our charter and the way we structure our classes and days, the kids get more face to face time with their teachers,” she explained. “As a charter school we have more flexibility and if something isn’t working we can try something different without a long wait to make a change. For the students that’s important.”
Sitting on 33 acres of land owned and operated by Clemson University’s Youth Learning Institute, the Academy is in a unique situation to not only train the mind but the body as well.
“Our students get more physical fitness opportunities as well,” Blankenship said. “They each get one hour per day of physical fitness instruction and a half hour either before or after lunch. So they not only get physical education more than once per week they also have an opportunity to just have fun while exercising.”
The academic programs have a different look and feel as well, with teachers and students working in groups and with encouragement to interact during class with their fellow students.
“Our classes are designed to encourage the students to learn to work together and to ask questions,” Smith said. “For example, our science classes have 12 different learning modules going at all times with students partnered up. As they work their way through the modules, partners are changed, giving all the kids the chance to work with one another.”
Providing an environment conducive to learning isn’t the only goal the Youth Leadership Academy has in mind. Local businesses have voiced a concern about readiness for the workforce.
“Local business leaders have told us there needs to be more preparation for our students when they enter the job market,” Smith said. “What they stressed was a need for our students to have a greater understanding of discipline and motivation, as well as working in conjunction with others.”
Applications are being taken for fall 2014 with the lottery for seats being held Feb. 10. Applications will be accepted until that date, and according to Smith, the application process is an easy one.
“Our school is open to any resident of South Carolina, not just Pickens County,” she said. “The application itself is simple and only needs basic information. This isn’t a long drawn out process.”
In the end, YLA’s goal is a simple one.
“A child coming to school here is a choice,” said Smith. “Not a statement on public schools, a choice in that we do things a little differently and for the students we’ve had the first two years, it’s been a great place to learn.”