Gatton Academy to celebrate 10th anniversary
By Aaron Mudd
Bowling Green Daily News
This weekend, alumni and students of Western Kentucky University's Gatton Academy will celebrate the elite high school's 10th anniversary.
For Lynette Breedlove, the center's director, the school's biggest accomplishment is its ability to push students to achieving a potential they never thought possible. When she speaks to graduates, she often asks if they'd repeat the experience knowing what they currently do.
"We have a great reputation and students are looking for a challenge," she told the Daily News. "Then they come and it's hard, really hard. It's not just challenging academically, but it's an interesting time in their lives when teenagers change a lot."
Despite the difficulty of studying away from home, Breedlove said virtually all of the students she's spoken with cherish the experience.
"In part, because they feel like they got into colleges they might not have gotten into otherwise," she said. "Others feel like they're prepared for what college is going to be like."
Throughout the weekend, the academy will gather for its "Gatton to the 10th" celebration, themed after the exponential success and growth it wants to pursue.
"I think when the Gatton Academy's history is considered someday, these 10 years are going to be very foundational days," said Derick Strode, the academy's assistant director. "This community that we're in when we're here among these students ... is growing exponentially with every year. We look at it like a network with all of these connections that intensifies every year."
The anniversary weekend will include 10 alumni events that re-create nostalgic classes, a volunteer effort at Lost River Cave and an alumni prom. The celebration also includes a Solar Eclipse Festival at the South Union Shaker Village for alumni, students and their families and friends.
Before the academy was founded, its current executive director Julia Roberts and astronomy professor Charles McGruder wrote a proposal in 1997 pitching the idea of a statewide, residential school to foster science, engineering, mathematics and technology education. From then, it took 10 years of advocacy work before the General Assembly took budget and legislative actions to make the school happen.
"That laid just a strong foundation for our school," Breedlove said. "So by the time our school opened, there was a wide support for what this program could be like and there had been time to do lots of research on how to put together the right model for Kentucky."
That was critical for the amount of success the school the has enjoyed in its short life, Breedlove said.
The school has been named by The Washington Post as one of the top schools in the nation with elite students for the ninth year in a row. The school was also named the No. 1 high school in the nation in 2012, 2013 and 2014 by Newsweek.
Beyond the accolades, Breedlove said the experiences students have had and the lives they enjoy now are what's most important. Strode said he regularly sees students graduating from medical school or traveling the world through his social media feeds. Breedlove said she's encouraged by seeing posts from graduates and current students "who are all over the world this summer."
"We're able to offer opportunities that may not be able to be offered in a high school," said Zack Ryle, the academy's assistant director of admissions and public relations.
As it stands the school has 192 students and more than 500 graduates. Going forward, Breedlove said the school will focus on evolving and serving students and their families.
"We have a pretty successful program so there's no reason to mess with that too much," she said.