MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Virtual and hybrid learning have become the new normal for a lot of schools across Alabama during the COVID-19 pandemic, but not for Southern Preparatory Academy.
The private, all boy’s military school in Camp Hill will begin in-person instruction on Wednesday.
“At the end of last year we went to virtual online learning, and we know for a fact that our boys that come to this academy just do much better in person,” said Jared Norrell, president of Southern Preparatory Academy.
“Back in March when we were sent home we heard from a lot of parents that talked about how virtual learning was harder for their young man,” said Director of Admissions Jenifer Isbell. “Maybe because they had a full-time job or maybe they didn’t have internet access. So it really made it hard for them.”
With a 300-acre facility and less than 100 cadets on campus, the staff said they have plenty of room to space out students.
“It was very important for us here at Southern Prep to be able to offer a campus and an environment that’s self-contained and safe for these young men to get the education that they need,” Isbell said.
Staff members said the fact that they are a boarding school helps minimize the boys’ potential risk of exposure to the virus off-campus.
“The boys live here together on campus in the dormitories so I think we have the ability to isolate the boys,” said Norrell. “At some point after a couple of weeks, they basically become ‘same household’ because we all live here.”
“With the COVID we have moved to a one-per-room setting. Also, we have the cute little masks that they’ll be able to wear and then we’ll do frequent cleanings and things for the common areas, and the dorms, the classrooms,” Isbell said.
The cadets are also spaced out during drills and training.
“We keep a safe distance even when we’re in formations,” said Top Cadet Heath Norrell. “We keep about 6 feet apart from each other at all times. We adhere to the safety rules; it’s just we’re modifying our program to fit that.”
The staff also said that without the boys’ ability to be on campus, the experience for their students would not be the same.
“Not only because of the faculty, the person to person instruction, but also peer association,” Norrell said.
Norrell refers to the academy, founded in 1898, as the “official military school of Alabama.”
“We’ve been around for 123 years,” Norrell said. “We’ve got some great cutting edge programs that include aviation and drones and this year we’re also starting a scuba program.”
Programs that the staff said would be difficult to do from home.
“It was very important that these boys be here on campus so that they could be with their instructor one on one,” Isbell said. “To be able to experience the flight simulator that we have on campus, to be able to travel to the airport in Alexander city to get their flight time in, and then also with the drone team, they have to have so many hours actually flying the drone on our parade field.”
Another reason why the school felt the boys needed to be on campus was so that they had the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with the other cadets.
Norrell said what he loves most about the academy is the brotherhood.
“You really grow to become brothers with one another,” Norrell said. “It becomes home.”
To learn more information about Southern Prep Academy you can visit their website.