Orchard Knob students get leadership boost

Orchard Knob students get leadership boost

May 15th, 2012 by Yolanda Putman in News

Orchard Knob Elementary principal LaFrederick Thirkill sorts through papers in his office in Chattanooga on Monday. Thirkill will be offering a summer school program this year called the East Chattanooga Improvement Technology & Youth Leadership Academy.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.


To volunteer for the East Chattanooga Improvement Corp.Technology and Youth Leadership Academy or to participate in mother's day out every third Tuesday at the Carver Recreation Center, call the Improvement Corp. at 752-4449.

Several students who were supposed to be leaders at Orchard Knob Elementary School talked back to teachers and brought cellphones and iPhones to school, but couldn't read on grade level, Principal LaFrederick Thirkill said.

He developed a summer program to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"My job is 24/7 seven days a week. I'm not just a principal in a school. This is my life," said Thirkill.

He said he's willing to take on the roles of principal, teacher and dad to make sure students learn.

But he isn't working alone.

The principal and at least six retired teachers and professionals recruited by the East Chattanooga Improvement Corp. will offer the East Chattanooga Improvement Corp. Technology and Youth Leadership Academy to all fourth-graders at Orchard Knob this summer.

The goal is to keep students working on academic progress in math and reading while teaching leadership, said Thirkill.

The leadership classes are scheduled from June through August two days a week, four hours a day.

Retired educators will prepare upcoming fifth-graders to be better role models by the next academic year.

James Moreland, head of the East Chattanooga Improvement Corp., also is seeking experienced parents willing to mentor younger parents.

"Make sure students are ready for a job. They have to have an education," Moreland said. "If you care about seeing the best potential in kids, you can't only raise your kid, you've got to help kids in the community."

Ten-year-old Jaelyn Curtis says she wants to participate in the leadership academy.

"Some people may not know some things, and they may need help," she said. "People don't want to go to the next grade not knowing much and not getting good grades."

Jaelyn wants to be in the Army when she grows up.

The summer program is among a number of changes Thirkill has made at the school in his first year as principal. The former Apison Elementary assistant principal also has reduced suspensions from 33 last academic year to 21 this year, started math and reading classes for parents and eliminated the in-school suspension program.