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Ben Franklin Academy celebrates 25 years
by Noreen Cochran
April 24, 2013 10:26 AM | 2934 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
From left, Ben Franklin Academy Dean of Studies Dr. Martha Burdette, student Will Block, 15, and his mother Mary Claus pose in a room on campus, where they are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the school.
From left, Ben Franklin Academy Dean of Studies Dr. Martha Burdette, student Will Block, 15, and his mother Mary Claus pose in a room on campus, where they are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the school.
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Marking 25 years, leaders of the Atlanta private school Ben Franklin Academy do not anticipate expanding beyond a 125-student body.

“We don’t aspire to become a big school,” said Dean of Studies Martha Burdette, Ph.D. “Most schools start out small and grow. We specialize in adolescents, grades nine to 12.”

Christened in tribute to Franklin’s “creativity, his devotion to lifelong learning, and his service to his country,” Burdette and Wood Smethurst, Ed.D., who is the headmaster, opened the school in 1988.

“We had no desire to name it after either of the school’s founders,” Burdette said.

It made its name in mastery education.

“It is an approach to education in which every student works at his own pace on every assignment,” Burdette said. “When you achieve mastery, you move on.”

Mary Claus, of Ansley Park, said the approach works for her son, Will Block, 15.

“Will chose the school when he understood that he could work one-on-one with his teachers. He was attracted to the physical school because of its small size and calm environment,” she said about the Emory University neighbor.

With student-teacher ratios as low as 2:1, Block made strides unattainable at the large private school from which he transferred, Claus said.

“Will’s grades have improved, but more importantly, he now looks at school as a place he can excel,” she said. “His anxiety, which was significant at his previous school, has virtually disappeared.”

Christina Hoff, a 2006 alumna, also transferred from a large private school.

“Suddenly, I had a team of people working on getting me into New York University,” she said about her 2010 alma mater. “It was a huge support system.”

Hoff returned with her own theater company, Fabrefaction.

“It started at Ben Franklin. I started a theatre company to fulfill my work-study requirements,” she said. “To be able to learn how to direct in high school is why I am able to do what I do today.”

Hoff said the school “used to have a reputation” as a haven for at-risk students, but Burdette said the school does not accept students with discipline problems.

“There are five profiles of students we serve,” Burdette said. “Those who want to accelerate and graduate high school early; gifted, [learning disability] and [attention deficit-disorder] students; international students who need work on their English; students who might have chronic illnesses and children who just want a small school.”
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