( 2 Votes )

Frank Leech. Photo by Tricia JohnsonAbrams Academy is the home of alternative education in Fluvanna County. Frank Leech, director of student services for Fluvanna County Public Schools, wants citizens to understand that students come to Abrams Academy for a variety of reasons and learn in a variety of ways, but for each individual, the staff at Abrams has the same goal: successful personalized intervention, education, and integration back into the student’s home school.
“We evaluate students when they come here to see what their needs are – we look at them academically, behaviorally, and socially to assess their needs. Our goal is to help a child learn strategies so when they go back to their regular home school, they have tools they can use so they can be successful.”
A common misconception is that all of the students at Abrams Academy are there for disciplinary reasons. “Students in alternative education are not always there for disciplinary reasons – some are there because they learn differently,” said Leech. “A student here can be a child with a behavior issue – one that is acting out – or it can be a child that is just really struggling for various reasons,” he added. Students arrive at Abrams a variety of ways; either a referral can be made from the administration of a student’s school because of behavior, social, or learning problems; or a family can request that their child be sent to Abrams. In either process, the child is thoroughly screened and the situation assessed before the decision is made to move him to Abrams. Often, Leech said, things can be done to help the student without removing him from his home school.
Leech said that Abrams offers more individualized instruction in a more structured environment. “We have the whole range of academic capabilities in our students,” he said. “Here they receive more one-on-one instruction.” Leech described the program as “very structured,” and emphasized that they build in times for closely monitored socialization, using the social situations that arise to teach the students strategies to be successful in the school environment.
The academy is housed in the historic Abrams Building – which was the African-American high school in Fluvanna before the days of desegregation. Leech appreciates the historical connection, and the inspiration his students can take from it.
All of Virginia’s counties offer alternative education, but Leech pointed out that the programs differ greatly from county to county. While Fluvanna takes advantage of “Apex,” an online learning program offered by the state, which includes state funding for the technology required, Leech has also visited other counties to see what is working there, and has integrated their successful programs into Fluvanna’s.
Leech’s philosophy of collaboration is evident in other ways at Abrams, too. Not only does the administration at Abrams work closely with other agencies within Fluvanna County – including Region Ten and the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office – but Leech also invites citizen leaders in to speak with his students about their experiences, and how they came to be where they are today. “I talk to the kids to try to find out what they are interested in,” Leech said, “then we invite folks in to speak with them on those topics.” He added that the students also go out into the community at times, and have volunteered with local non-profits.
“This past year, Region Ten has joined us and has a person up here full time that works with us,” Leech said. “We have instituted some groups for students with different needs…it can be to help them deal with everything from test stress to anger management to just about anything.” Each program is crafted to suit the individual student. “We look at all the students that are here and we assess what the needs are and we try to address them,” said Leech. “I am so excited this year we have a school psychologist who is going to be based with us full time,” he added.
Also new this year is the program’s expansion into the elementary level. “When there are issues going on in K-4 we actually want to go become involved in their home school and work with their administrators, the students, the teachers, and the families to set up a plan so they can be successful within the school,” Leech said. “If an elementary student comes over here to Abrams it is for a short term – no more than nine weeks.” While at Abrams, the student will continue working on academics, but will have help from the psychologist addressing their needs. Leech emphasized that there are a “whole lot of steps we would work on within the school before a K-4 student comes over here.”
Leech emphasized the need for constant communication among the staff at Abrams, the administrators, counselors, and teachers at the child’s home school, and the child’s parents. “We constantly stay in touch with the school administration at the child’s home school, but we want to involve the teachers from the student’s home school more, and keep the parents in the loop even more than we have been doing this past year,” he said. “I have found that the parents are very supportive, because the bottom line is we are trying to help their kids.” He added that if a student’s family needs counseling or other help in dealing with their child, a referral can be offered to Region Ten.
Leech is proud of his staff, describing them as “a compassionate group with a lot of energy,” and said he reminds them to keep a sense of humor. “If you can’t laugh at yourself, and laugh with the students,” he insisted, “you are in trouble.”
Leech wants local civic leaders and business owners to be aware – he may come knocking at your door. “I will be asking for community leaders and others to be speakers - to come and work with our kids,” he warned with a smile.