ROCKY MOUNT — Franklin County’s secondary learning center, an alternative to out-of-school suspension, prevented 1,824 absences in its inaugural year.

That was one of a number of figures that program coordinator Susan Badger shared with the school board on Monday night. The center, housed in a building on the Benjamin Franklin Middle School campus, was designed in part to reduce chronic absenteeism.

From the program launch in October to the end of the school year in May, the center served more than 260 students. Approximately 36% were middle school students and 64% high school students. Few of the students were repeat offenders, Badger said.

She credited the collaboration of administrators and teachers for the program’s success. Students indicated they benefited from the small classroom environment, Badger said, which allowed for extra attention.

This year, Badger said she’d like to incorporate more restorative practices to help students manage their emotions and make better decisions. She also wants law enforcement officers to speak with students about the dangers of alcohol, drugs and electronic cigarettes.

Use of electronic cigarettes was the most common offense that brought students to the secondary learning center, which Badger said made up for approximately 68% of all referrals.

Badger also made some requests of the school board. She said the center would benefit from a special education teacher, guidance counselor, additional laptops for student use and computers for teacher use.

Franklin County High School Principal Jon Crutchfield also gave the board an update on its innovation planning grant awarded in July. Administrators plan to develop a pathway to a career in the health sector for students.

An instructional council made up of 21 teachers has been formed to discuss the cultural changes necessary to implement the program, Crutchfield said. The council will meet monthly. Part of the group will attend conferences and visit schools with similar programs.

The principal said an advisory committee that includes representatives from the school division’s grant partners at Ferrum College, Virginia Western Community College and Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital, among others, was also created. It will meet quarterly.

Crutchfield described the progress thus far as “baby steps” but said everyone involved was excited to get to work.

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