After high school, Amanda Berry wants to go on to the U.S. Military or Naval academy.
So the sophomore signed up for the inaugural class at Charlotte's new Military and Global Leadership Academy.
A countywide magnet program of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, it's the state's first public school with a military focus.
The school is a good fit, said Berry, already the academy's top-ranking Junior ROTC cadet.
Classes for the school's 403 sixth- through 10th-graders are smaller here than at Berry's previous school. The goal at the academy is a limit of about 100 in each grade level.
Berry said the extra time with teachers is helping her become a better student. She thinks that gives her a better shot at reaching her goals.
“I've always had that motivation to do something bigger in my life,” she said Thursday at a dedication for the school.
Berry's proving ground is tucked away off South Tryon Street near the Southside Homes public housing community.
It was once Marie G. Davis Middle School. It has been rebuilt and has a fresh agenda to match its freshly painted walls.
The program is modeled largely on a public military school in Chicago. JROTC programs tap into the regimentation and rituals that are designed to encourage discipline.
Yet the goal isn't to make the students into soldiers. A rigorous traditional curriculum that centers on math, science and English courses can help students become leaders.
Together, the courses and the JROTC programs also may help students compete for scholarships.
In 2007, seniors in JROTC programs in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools earned $3.4 million in scholarships and appointments to military academies, said Col. Harry D. Ray Jr., JROTC director for the system.
Institutions offering these scholarships and appointments include The Citadel, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame College, UNC Chapel Hill and the U.S. Air Force, Naval and Military academies.
And there are other reasons a military focus appeals to school system officials. The on-time graduation rate for JROTC seniors was 96.4 percent in 2007, Ray said. That compares to a 74 percent graduation rate throughout the system in 2007.
“This really is a track for higher expectations,” said Robbie Kale, director of Charlotte-Mecklenburg magnet programs.
Growing pains are to be expected in a new program. Symptoms are emerging at the academy, said Principal Lawrance Mayes Sr.
Admission through a lottery process allows students who have behavioral problems and deficient academic performance to attend.
Admission policies will have to change to build a strong academic program, Mayes said. Otherwise, some parents turn to the program looking for military-style behavior management, which is absent here.
“We've got to clean up some of that,” Mayes said. “Some folks took it to be boot camp, and it's not. This is for students who are academically prepared to deal with high-level courses for the middle-school level and advanced placement for high school.”