Ladue High School's student news site

Ladue Publications

Ladue High School's student news site

Ladue Publications

Ladue High School's student news site

Ladue Publications

LEAD the Way

LEADS Academy strives to support and encourage students

Away from the commotion of the rest of the school building is the secluded hallway of LEADS Academy. It sections off into several passages with classrooms tucked away in every corner. The walls are covered in posters with encouraging phrases and norms: “Communicate,” “Never Make Assumptions,” “Respect Boundaries.” Many Ladue students are unfamiliar with the hallway, as some have never set foot in it. For students like Ezra Adams (11), however, these passages have become a second home.

“It’s great if you need individual [focus], or if the regular Ladue learning style isn’t working for you,” Adams said. “I know you can talk to counselors to see what the solution is for that as well.”

The LEADS Academy faculty team is composed of teachers, counselors, a social worker and other administrators who work closely with students to align their interests with their aspirations. 

“It really helps to have a lot of people who are on your side that advocate for you,” Adams said. “Usually you’ll have your own team of teachers, and Dr. Rapoff, [who] helps so much with figuring out what each student needs.”

Dr. Beth Rapoff, associate principal and founder of LEADS, established the program with the goal of supporting Ladue students who wanted a more personalized experience in high school. The core values of LEADS are spelled out in its full title: Leadership, Empowerment, Achievement, Drive and Social responsibility.

“LEADS Academy is designed for a little bit of a different experience, and some students thrive in a different environment,” Rapoff said. “Sometimes it’s a smaller class setting, or the way we organize our classes. Students have opportunities to take virtual classes in LEADS as well, to accelerate their credit or to catch up on credit. It might be [beneficial] for a student who just transferred here, a student who’s particularly shy or has had a loss or a student who wants a consistent start to their day and a smaller environment.”

Adams, in particular, utilized the program as an opportunity to graduate a year early by completing online credit recovery courses. He plans to attend the University of Memphis in the fall and earn a degree in social work. 

“It’s hard to explain how I got here,” Adams said. “I was really lucky. I dropped out of class my freshman year, but it was far enough in [the] semester that I got the credit for it. Now, on top of everything with LEADS, I’m only one credit away from being able to graduate, so I’m just taking online classes to succeed in that.”

In addition to allowing Adams to graduate early, LEADS has aided him in growing as a student and individual, through smaller class sizes and regular check-ins.

“I’ve always had a really hard time with motivation,” Adams said. “While, in the past few years, LEADS hasn’t cured it, it’s definitely made me more [motivated]. The teachers help you get more engaged in class, and the classes themselves are designed to be more engaging.”

Matthew Horn has been teaching Sustainable Investigations and Wellness and Skills at LEADS for three years, and has witnessed the personal development of his students.

“The ability to see [your students] every day means you can build a genuine relationship with them,” Horn said. “In any classroom, kids have issues in life, and you have to be patient, lend an ear and try to guide them through whatever issues might arise.”

In his Sustainable Investigations class, Horn has greater flexibility when creating his curriculum, as he is able to modify his lessons based on current events that relate to sustainability.

“We’re doing a unit on food waste and we’re going to start a composting bin with Chartwells to collect food scraps and reduce our food waste imprinting,” Horn said. “[Sustainable Investigations] lends itself to trying to find solutions to the problems we face.”

LEADS allows students to take up to three core classes and semester courses for additional credit. The program hosts a diverse set of sophomores, juniors and seniors of various academic levels. 

“We’ve had students who’ve been in AP classes, students [who’ve had] academic struggles [and] anywhere in between,” Rapoff said. “If you’re looking for something different that’s a little bit off the beaten path, LEADS might be a good opportunity for you.”

In LEADS Lab, a homeroom-like class, students are able to set goals with their teachers, gain additional time to complete their schoolwork and work on credit recovery. The LEADS environment fosters growth for students by recognizing that learning isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. 

“When things might not work for a student in a general educational setting and they come here, they succeed,” Horn said. “It’s taught me that you have to adapt to the student and meet them on their level.”

Horn views the program’s grading system as one of its aspects that makes it more equitable. Through a standards-based grading system, LEADS students can still earn A, B, C, D and F grades, but each of their assignments are worth four points.

“Four points means you’ve mastered it, three means you’re getting close [and then there’s] two to one,” Horn said. “We do have the ability to re-teach skills till they master them, so they have multiple opportunities to show us that they’ve mastered the content.”

Horn stresses that students who are unfamiliar with LEADS should recognize that the program is meant for students from a variety of backgrounds.

“There’s some people that might not know what LEADS is [which makes them form] stereotypes,” Horn said. “We have kids in here that are amongst the brightest minds that our school has, but for whatever reason, the general education setting didn’t work out.”

After years of developing LEADS, Rapoff intends for the program to continue to evolve and thrive. By spreading awareness, she hopes that more Ladue students will be able to benefit from LEADS.

“I’m always thinking about how we can best serve our students, get them excited, get them here [and] get them flourishing,” Rapoff said. “I would like to see more students taking advantage of this opportunity [instead of] thinking it’s not for them because I think it is a program for a lot more kids than we currently serve.”


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About the Contributors
Maya Mathew, Staff
Maya Mathew is a staffer on Panorama. She is a sophomore and this is her first year on staff. Maya enjoys singing, reading, drinking bubble tea and watching FRIENDS.
Vincent Hsiao, Photo Editor in Chief
Sophomore Vincent Hsiao is the photography editor in chief for Panorama. He was previously a staff photographer for Ladue Publications where he significantly contributed to photos in both the Panorama newsmagazine and Rambler yearbook. Outside of photography, Hsiao is on the Ladue swim team and has been a swimmer since he was six.

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