Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

December 20, 2007

Pittsboro student in alternative program

by Jamie Hergott

PITTSBORO — At Erik Wagner’s high school, he is required to do a “face check” every evening, he has a curfew, and if he’s not careful, he could get grounded. But he still wouldn’t trade his experience at the Indiana Academy of Science, Mathematics, and Humanities for anything.

“I would tell anyone to go there,” Wagner said. “It’s a very good way to get ready for college.”

Wagner, who turned 19 on Nov. 27, is a senior at the two-year residential high school in Muncie. In 1990, the Indiana legislators voted to start and fund a school for gifted and talented students from all over the state. Students can take college classes for dual credit and have schedules similar to those of college students.

Wagner spent his first two years of high school at Tri-West, and when he received the academy’s application packet in the mail, he didn’t want to pass up the opportunity. So he applied, even though his mother, Cheri, was hesitant.

“I wasn’t expecting him to leave two years early for school,” Cheri said. “It was a bit of a shock. But I didn’t want to stand in his way. He’s always been good at seeing opportunities and going after them. It’s something he wanted. So I backed him up.”

Though Wagner was surprised that he got accepted, his involvement in Hendricks County shows his commitment to learning new things. At Tri-West, he was on the Spell Bowl and Academic Super Bowl teams, Student Council, Spanish Club, and Youth Leadership of Hendricks County. He was also very involved with soccer, and his record speaks for itself. He was the state leader on the www.IHSAA.org website in goals per game for boys’ soccer. He was also No. 2 for overall points and No. 13 for assists. He played soccer for Tri-West Youth Soccer League and varsity soccer at Tri-West his freshman and sophomore years, and played for Westside United Premiere Soccer League for two years.

“I don’t like being bored,” Wagner said, after hashing out his list of activities.

It turns out the academy is the perfect place for him because of this, he says. The school and its dormitories are on Ball State University’s campus, and the academy shares athletics teams, band, and choir with Burris Laboratory School at BSU. Students at the academy can also take courses through BSU and only about three classes are actually required. All other classes can be chosen in particular areas, such as social science or math. He says professors, who are all required to have their master’s degrees and 60 percent of which have doctorates, encourage students to ask questions and ask for help.

“I have to study,” Wagner said. “That’s a whole new challenge. I’ve never had to ask for help.”

A typical day for Wagner is similar to a day at college. He always sets his alarm for 6:45 a.m., giving himself time to press the snooze button about three times. The cafeteria is right on the way to class, so after getting ready, he grabs breakfast, has class from 8 to 11 a.m., with a two-hour break for lunch. He then has class from 1 to 3 p.m. After class, he can do whatever he chooses, but is required to do a “face check” between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. with his Student Life Counselor (SLC), who serve as resident assistants on each floor.

“That’s when I stop by my SLC’s room and let him know I’m here,” Wagner said. Building curfews, floor curfews, and room curfews vary depending on what “card level” a student has earned. Each card level (pink, yellow, green, or blue) has a growing amount of freedoms allowed to the student who possesses it. Progress in the academy can earn greater freedoms. But Wagner says there’s also a downside to progress being tracked so closely. Wagner said he has definitely learned time management ... or tried to, anyway.

“I don’t want to miss out on what my friends are doing,” he said. “Once you stay up ‘til midnight doing nothing, then you stay up until 2 a.m. doing homework. It’s a vicious cycle. But we can be grounded by any authoritative figure except a teacher,” Wagner said. “That’s when we can’t leave the building after seven.”

Dr. Vicki Barton, executive co-director for the academy, says the academy is not solely academic.

“It’s for bright students that want to be well-rounded,” Barton said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that if students complete this program, they can do absolutely anything they want to do.”

Initially, the academy was completely funded by the state. But because of a reduction in funds and a hike in room and board at Ball State, parents are now charged a minimum price to send students there.

For Wagner, that minimal amount is a small price to pay for the experiences and friends he has made.

“It’s unintentionally a well-kept secret,” Wagner said.

jamie.hergott@flyergroup.com