Friday, June 12, 2020

A Letter From the Headmaster and Chairman of the Board of Trustees

Dear Houston Academy Family: 

We have all been shocked and dismayed by the recent events surrounding George Floyd's tragic and shocking death. Regardless of one’s political party, race, religion, or creed, this event has brought the ideal of equality and equal justice for all to the forefront of the national consciousness. From our perspective, this event has confirmed our resolve to have a school community which values equity, equality, and which condemns racism and bigotry in no uncertain terms. 

We do not want you to believe, however, that these values were not already important to us. Six years ago we incorporated the idea of inclusivity into our strategic plan. In fact, our very first goal was: 

To raise global awareness by increasing respect and appreciation for personal and cultural differences.


It is important to note that we are deliberate in talking about being "inclusive," not merely "tolerant." Tolerance is passive; inclusivity is active. That is, it is not enough to merely “tolerate” differences in race, religion, or belief systems. We must “include” each other and, in fact, celebrate and understand our differences. We have worked on this through our advisory program and through our curriculum. Moreover, the Board of Trustees has made a firm commitment to diversifying the student body and a number of our families have made a strong pecuniary commitment to supporting students with financial need. Additionally, eight years ago, the Board of Trustees also expanded the school's mission statement to say that our mission is to "prepare all our students for responsible participation in a global society." This is an explicit acknowledgment that our country and world is increasingly interconnected and diverse, and the only way our children will be able to successfully navigate this world is to understand and respect differences. 

Obviously, this is not enough, and there is a lot of "heavy lifting" to be done. The leadership team at HA is dedicated to giving our students from diverse backgrounds a voice, and those conversations have already begun. Specifically, we believe that one of the keys to moving forward as a community is to have honest, frank conversations, but also to listen to each other. You will be hearing more from us about specifics as the year moves forward. 

As always, your input is appreciated, both by the Board of Trustees and Dr. Phillipps


Dr. Scott D. Phillipps,
Headmaster            

Kevin Savoy, 
Chairman of the Board of Trustees

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Coronavirus

Dear HA Family:

Our school is currently monitoring closely the spread of the coronavirus and if it may, in time, affect our campus. Our main priority is to keep our students, faculty, and staff healthy and safe. We want to assure you that we will take necessary precautions so that our students are protected.

On-Campus Response
On campus, we have created a plan in response to the potential threat of this epidemic. The plan also applies to influenza, or any other pandemic virus that may cause serious widespread illnesses. It includes preventative and environmental sanitation practices on campus. Our plan includes:

·      Our maintenance staff taking care to wipe down door knobs other frequently touched surfaces on a daily basis;   
·      Starting a campaign to ensure our students wash their hands frequently and use the hand sanitizer that is placed in each classroom;
·      Encouraging students to cough or sneeze into their arm, not their hands;
·      Strongly urging all families NOT TO SEND YOUR CHILD TO SCHOOL SHOULD SIGNS OF ILLNESS APPEAR (as always, we ask that a child be fever-free for 24 hours before he or she returns to school);
·      Asking our teachers and students to wipe down desks throughout the day to ensure those surfaces are sanitary.

Travel
With the approach of spring break and families traveling domestically and internationally, we strongly encourage you to adhere to the CDC's guidelines on travel, and use U.S. State Department website to review your destination(s) before your departure, during your trip and upon your return. We understand this information changes and as such, encourage you to check this website regularly.

Additionally, we ask that any community members who find it necessary to travel to areas of CDC Level 2 or Level 3 concern inform the School of their travel so that we may provide appropriate guidance. We will be asking travelers from those countries to refrain from coming to campus for a minimum of 14 days after their return home.

I was able to speak directly to the Head of the Alabama Department of Public Health. After a detailed conversation, I have determined that Houston Academy will postpone all school-sponsored travel scheduled for Short Term.  As a result, all Short Term classes/experiences are cancelled, except for senior internships. Because it would be impossible to incorporate all of the students that were scheduled to travel, regular classes will continue next week.





Planning for Possible School Disruption
We are planning to explore the option remote learning should we find it necessary to cancel school for a prolonged period of time. We suggest you ensure that your student has access to high-speed internet should virtual learning need to occur for any period of time. If access is a problem for your family, please contact your child’s division head.


Please remember that students take their emotional cues from the adult community. We encourage you to monitor your child's engagement in the topic and help them understand what they are seeing and hearing to avoid anxiety. Being prepared is not a cause for panic or alarm. Here is a helpful article on how to talk to your child about the Coronavirus outbreak. Our Counseling staff are here to help you, as well.


If you have any questions relating to our policies and procedures, please feel free to contact your respective division head or me.







Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Houston Academy Government, History, & Civics Program


Houston Academy's mission calls for our students to engage in “responsible participation” in society. For this reason, civics, United States history, geography, economics, and government are all central to our social science curriculum. Our notion of responsible participation in society goes well beyond teaching our students that it is important to vote. We believe our students should have the knowledge, skills, and inclination to think critically and debate the issues facing our city, state, country, and world. Finally, we believe that active participation in our society means that our students will be engaged in authentic community service. That is, our students are required to go out and “do,” not merely sit in a desk and focus on scholastic endeavors.

Lower School

In our Lower School, we provide students subscriptions to the online resource, Social Studies Weekly, in which the students interact in a technology-rich, engaging way, with current events, government, and geography.  

Of particular note, the second graders do a project on “Famous Americans,” in which the students research how various citizens contributed to our nation. In third grade, there is a particular focus on Alabama history, geography, and government, and the students take a field trip to the state capital.

Across all Lower School grades, the students engage in special lessons surrounding elections, Veterans’ Day, and 9/11, and they regularly enjoy visits from politicians such as Martha Roby, Mayor Mark Saliba, and former Mayor Mike Schmitz.

Middle School

In the Middle School at Houston Academy, students study U.S. government and geography. Topics include:
·      the Constitutional federal republic;
·      foundations of democracy;
·      federal government officials and buildings;
·      federal versus state law;
·      the U.S. Constitution, itself and federal laws;
·      the state government officials and buildings;
·      the Alabama state constitution and state laws;
·      local government buildings and officials;
·      local laws and ordinances;
·      comparative US and other democratic systems;
·      Regional geographic features, including climate zones, oceans, native vegetation, indigenous animals, common belief systems, regional traditions, and industrialization.

In the 5th grade, students travel to American Village in Montevallo and learn about the founding of the republic, and actively engage with colonial reenactors to make history come alive. Seventh and eighth graders travel to Washington, D.C., where, typically, they are able to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Additionally, they visit the major historical landmarks, see historical documents, as well as museums in the Smithsonian complex and the Library of Congress.

Finally, in the Middle School advisory program, students have themes centered around patriotism and civics, and the importance of active participation in our government and society.

Upper School

The Upper School social studies and history curriculum involves both world and U.S. perspectives. The following courses are offered that are relevant to U.S. government and history.

U.S. History

U.S. History or AP U.S. History is required for graduation at H.A. This course surveys America’s colonial period to contemporary times. Students are expected to acquire an in-depth knowledge of the major political, social, cultural, economic, and diplomatic themes of American history. Through the study of current events, students gain an understanding of the relevance of the past to their daily lives. Analytical skills are emphasized.

Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History

This college-level survey course is geared specifically toward the Advanced Placement United States History Test. It covers American history from the earliest known records to the present, with special attention to social and political trends, themes, and movements. Extensive reading, including assigned summer reading, and weekly written assignments are required. Class discussion and debate are essential; analytical skills, therefore, are stressed. Tests modeled after the AP test are administered regularly, and review sessions are scheduled as needed, particularly during the second semester.

American Government

All seniors take American Government or AP US Government and Politics. This semester course examines in depth the current American political system on the local and national level. Attention is directed to the study of the Constitution and the respective branches of government. Essay writing and critical thinking skills are broadened. The students engage in a mock Congress, which is a capstone experience. Students play the role of U.S. Senators and Representatives, as they draft legislation and guide its passage.

Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. Government and Politics

AP U.S. Government and Politics provides a college-level introduction to key political concepts, ideas, institutions, policies, interactions, roles, and behaviors that characterize the constitutional system and political culture of the United States. Students will study U.S. foundational documents, Supreme Court decisions, and other texts and visuals to gain an understanding of the relationships and interactions among political institutions, processes, and behavior. They also engage in disciplinary practices that require them to read and interpret data, make comparisons and applications, and develop evidence-based arguments. In addition, they complete a political science research or applied civics project.

Economics

All seniors take Economics or AP Macroeconomics. Usually paired with Government, this course introduces the various economic systems and theories with an in-depth analysis of America’s free enterprise system. It provides the students a broad introduction to the study of macroeconomics with an emphasis on contemporary problems and consumer economics.

Advanced Placement (AP) Macroeconomics

AP Macroeconomics is a fast-paced, college-level course that focuses on the decision making of individuals, businesses, and the government. Students will study a variety of economic theories and analyze their practical application in the real world.
This semester course focuses on the economy as a whole, including economic measures, economic growth, fiscal policy, monetary policy, and international economics. Students are required to take the AP Macroeconomics in May. Extensive math skills are not required; however, the ability to analyze graphs and charts is essential.

The Sixties in America, Honors

This semester course covers two pivotal decades, the two “60s” that the United States has experienced since its founding, the 1860s and 1960s. These decades were influential in a variety of ways, impacting the American people, history, and culture in unimaginable ways. The first term focuses upon the 1860s, with the Civil War and its immediate aftermath as the focus. The second term focuses upon the Cold War, Civil Rights Movement, and the culture of the 1960s. The course utilizes a variety of sources, including first-person accounts, literary works, and films set in and influenced by the events of the decade.

History through Film and Literature Honors
While not strictly a United States history course, this course touches on a number of topics in United States history. This semester course examines important people, places, and events in history by looking at accounts of them as they appear in literature and film. Students look at historical accounts, newspaper articles, short stories, poems, and novels, some fictional and some not, to glean an understanding of time and place. They also look at film treatments, some documentaries, some newscasts, and some feature films, to get an appreciation of people, places, and events. Time will be spent exploring the voyages of Christopher Columbus, the sinking of the Titanic, the American Civil War, the Holocaust, and much more.

Advanced Placement (AP) Human Geography
Again, while not strictly, American, AP Human Geography gives students a unique perspective on US culture and its place in the world.  AP Human Geography is a course designed to prepare students for geographic analysis. Students study the distributions, the processes, and the effects of human populations on the planet. Using problem-solving and decision-making skills, they analyze the following geographic themes: population and migration, urban and rural land use, religion, language, architecture, political and economic development, and globalization. Students take the AP exam in May for college credit.

Extracurricular Activities



Poverty Simulation

Houston Academy seniors now take part in the “Alabama Possible” Poverty Simulation. According to “Alabama Possible”:
Alabama is the sixth poorest state in the nation, and nearly 900,000 of our neighbors live below the federal poverty line. The Community Action Poverty Simulation is a unique, interactive experience that helps facilitate understanding of the challenges faced by individuals in our community who are living at or below the poverty level. The simulation increases participants’ understanding of hardships and the emotional toll experienced by impoverished members of our society and the work it takes to achieve self-sufficiency.

This program has served as a meaningful exercise for our seniors as they go out into the wider world.

Other extracurricular opportunities which allow students to engage in authentic civil engagement include:
·      Leadership Dothan,
·      Boys and Girls State,
·      Student Government Association,
·      Upper School Disciplinary Committee, and
·      Upper School Honor Council.

Houston Academy is particularly proud of the role students play in making day-to-day decisions. We believe that in order to create responsible citizens who embrace democratic principles, those principles must be modeled in school. Therefore, in the last seven years, the Upper School Honor Council was strengthened and reorganized, and an Upper School Disciplinary Committee was formed. These committees make recommendations to the administration when possible violations of the school’s honor code or disciplinary rules occur. Students are elected by peers and faculty to serve on these two committees, and students who violate our community standards must appear in front of them. This has proven to be a powerful system in which community violations are judged by community members. Consequently, HA has experienced a substantial and significant drop in honor and disciplinary offenses. Moreover, students have taken greater ownership of their own community and school.

Community Service

In order to graduate, all students at Houston Academy must document 40 hours of community service. Additionally, students receive honor cords at graduation for completing 80 hours of service.  As mentioned previously, the purpose of community service at Houston Academy is to have our students actively and authentically engage in the community. Raising money is not enough. Collecting money is, in many ways, a passive exercise which does not allow our students to work with real people in our community. That is not to say that we don’t raise money for worthy causes. HA has raised money for the American Cancer Society, the United Way, and the Red Cross, to name but a few organizations. Below are a few examples of recent community service efforts.

In 2017, Houston Academy filled an entire shipping container full of relief supplies and delivered it to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. With the help of a Houston Academy family, the supplies were personally delivered to a part of the island that was in dire need and was not receiving adequate federal or international assistance.

In 2018, Houston Academy organized disaster relief for Holy Nativity Episcopal School in Panama City, FL, which was destroyed by Hurricane Michael. The teachers and students at HA supplied every Holy Nativity teacher with basic supplies, such as staplers, pens, pencils, notebooks, and post-it notes. Those supplies were delivered, personally, to every classroom by members of the school administration.

Each year, HA’s Student Government Association (SGA) participates in their Rescue Christmas Shopping service project. Typically, approximately 50 students shop for Christmas gifts for the Rescue Mission. SGA uses money raised from homecoming, powderpuff and other events to fund this worthy event, providing Christmas presents for homeless children.

HA alumnus, Ben Nelson, digs
a well in Nicaragua. 
In the last three years, Houston Academy has been an active participant in the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life,” raising thousands of dollars for cancer research. Currently, the school is promoting a “Go Gold!” campaign to help end childhood cancer.

In February of 2018, the preschool students participated in our Water Service Project. Each class participated in lessons/activities about water and the importance of clean water. Each Friday in February the preschoolers were able to purchase popsicles to help raise money to send to Nicaragua for water filters. Two of HA’s own Upper School students went on this mission trip with Westgate Church of Christ to Nicaragua during Spring Break.

Hits for Heroes

The entire school annually contributes to and works for our “Hits for Heroes” baseball tournament fundraiser. This fundraiser began at Houston Academy, and has spread across the state of Alabama and the Southeast. High school and college teams across the southeast play games, the proceeds of which go to support our veterans and active duty military. Last year, in partnership with the USO, Houston Academy sent, literally, hundreds of care packages to our deployed troops. Additionally, as a separate service, our children write letters to soldiers.

Wiregrass Children’s Home/Alabama Baptist Children’s Home

The purpose of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries is to protect, nurture, and restore children and families through service. This purpose is met by providing homes for children, professional counseling, educational services and family assistance. Our students work with these children, directly, playing games, tutoring, and providing needed services, as requested by the organization.

Harbor House

 Harbor House serves the poor, needy and homeless residents of Dothan by meeting their physical needs. These needs are met through programs such as Celebrate Recovery, Saturday meals, Wednesday night church services, Adopt-a-Block outreach, job placement and mentoring services.
 

Enable Ministry

The Enable Ministry meets once a month at the recreation outreach center of Calvary Baptist Church. Through this ministry, students with different learning and social disabilities have the opportunity to play, eat, and do arts/crafts with a volunteer. 

Vaughn-Blumberg/Miracle League of Dothan

The mission of Vaughn-Blumberg Services (VBS), a 501 (c) 3 non-profit agency, is to provide or to assist in securing the provision of comprehensive services for people with intellectual disabilities that reside in Houston County as well as assist in facilitating their participation in society to the fullest extent of their individual capabilities. People receiving services are 18 years of age or older and are diagnosed as having an intellectual disability. VBS also provides early intervention services for infants/toddlers between birth to three years of age and adolescents with intellectual disabilities identified as eligible and determined appropriate for available program services. VBS provides services to approximately 200 Houston County adults with intellectual disabilities and 22 children. 

Miracle field was designed for physically disabled children to have the opportunity to play in a baseball game. Our students can help out by being a “buddy” to one of the players competing in the game and assisting them during the game. Games start in March and go until May.

The Wiregrass Humane Society (Heart)

The Wiregrass Humane Society is an animal rescue facility located in Dothan. When the Dothan Animal Control officers pick up a stray animal, that animal has 20 days to get picked up by its owner or it gets euthanized. The Human Society’s goal is to save as many of those animals as possible and give them a new home. Students help by volunteering at the Humane Society with tasks such as walking dogs, giving baths to dogs, playing with cats and dogs, and much more.

Wiregrass Habitat for Humanity

The Wiregrass Habitat for Humanity serves four counties: Dale, Henry, Houston, and Geneva. Homes built by Wiregrass HFH and sold to homeowners typically between $45,000 and $75,000. Students at Houston Academy take part in construction projects, project support, and landscaping. 

Summary


Houston Academy fully embraces its role in developing civic-minded leaders of tomorrow. We believe that our students leave Houston Academy equipped to be active participants in our society with a full knowledge and understanding of our history, traditions, values, and responsibilities. Our program is far from perfect, but it is also not stagnant. We are constantly evolving in this arena to meet the demands of this complicated, 21st century world our children will enter.