Gatton students finish high school with limited freedom

Logan Eckler of Covington, right, and Austin Tang of Bowling Green play a game of Magic: the Gathering on Sunday on the third floor of Florence Schneider Hall, the home of the Gatton Academy.

Zirconia Alleyne

High school juniors and seniors might anticipate the amount of freedom they will have in college. For Gatton Academy students, college came early, but total freedom didn’t come with it.

The Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science opened at WKU in the fall of 2007, and Florence Schneider Hall became home to more than 100 high school juniors and seniors from counties across Kentucky.

Concentrating in math and science, students complete their last two years of high school, while earning 60 hours of college credit.

Luke Yap, an academy junior from Carrollton, said he wasn’t really sure he would get accepted into the program.

“Everyone was at my level or smarter,” he said.

After he was accepted, Yap posted it to his Facebook page and told his friends, who had mixed emotions.

“They were happy for me, but kind of disappointed that I was leaving,” he said.

Maintaining relationships at home was the beginning of change for Yap and other academy students.

Yap, 16, said his parents worried about him being away from home because he has diabetes.

“They worry about if I can take care of myself,” he said. “Other than that I don’t think they worry as much.”

With parental and student concerns at hand, academy administrators maintain ongoing communication with parents.

Corey Alderdice, the assistant director for admissions and public relations at the academy, said that parents place a “tremendous” amount of trust in their student.

“For the first time in their lives students are flying solo,” he said. “We live in a time where technology shrinks distance.”

Residential counselors, or RCs, are on every wing for supervision, safety and support.

“They are more hands-on than the traditional RA on campus,” Alderdice said.

Yap said he has a close relationship with the RCs because they are always there if he needs them.

“They’re like our live-in parents,” said Eminence junior Rachel Metcalfe.

The academy established a Student Handbook and an Adventure Week to help with the transition.

The handbook outlines requirements such as curfews, class attendance, study hours, behavioral expectations and discipline policies.

“For some students this will be the most freedom they’ve ever had and for others, this may be the strictest,” Alderdice said. “But these are the parameters we’ve established for the school as a whole.”

According to the handbook, academy students have curfew at 10:30 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday and weekend curfew at midnight. Academy students must be accompanied by another academy student if they go off campus.

Although she has her license, Calloway junior Hannalore Clause and other students usually carpool with a senior who lives nearby.

“We can’t just check out and drive our cars around Bowling Green,” she said.

Students turn in their keys at the front desk during the week and check them out to travel home during closed weekends, which are once a month.

Alderdice said the maturity level of the student helps with the transition, along with Adventure Week.

Similar to MASTER Plan, Adventure Week prepares students for college classes, residential life and developing study skills.

Metcalfe said she had to learn how to study when she came to college.

“At my old high school, I just breezed by and didn’t have to study,” she said.

Although the course work is harder, Metcalfe said she feels more academically challenged than she would have at Eminence High School, which didn’t offer any advanced placement courses.

However, she does miss playing basketball and volleyball, which she did in high school.

Academy students cannot participate in NCAA sports and Greek life, Alderdice said.

“Otherwise, if it’s available to a WKU student, it’s available to academy students,” he said.

The academy offers clubs such as Green Club and Beta Club and a reserved academy seat in the Student Government Association, Clause said.

She was nominated to be the Beta Club president her senior year.

Clause said she likes the atmosphere at the academy more than her previous high school.

“I felt kind of like an outcast, because I wanted to be challenged,” she said. “Here, we all have a passion and that helps me strive higher.”