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Hardin Academy's facility celebrates groundbreaking with powwow

Posted at 6:16 PM, Jun 04, 2024

HARDIN — Next year's Hardin Academy students will get to use the new facility that opened to the public Tuesday.

Started in 2021, the academy is the Hardin School District's first alternative school. The school is using a different approach to educate students who might struggle in a traditional setting. The district's students and staff celebrated the opening of the school with a powwow.

It's the first year that students from Hardin Academy graduated from the school after learning in temporary trailers for the past three years.

The district is hoping to connect with kids like 17-year-old Hardin Academy graduate Andron Falls Down.

Andron Falls Down is part of the first graduating class of Hardin Academy

“When I started out in Hardin High School, I was going down the wrong path. I was in and out of fights and had a lot of drama going on,” Falls Down said at the academy.

When the pandemic hit, Falls Down could only attend school online, something he said he struggled with.

“After that, they dropped me. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life,” added Falls Down.

When the academy began, its principal, Taylor Sidwell, made sure there was a spot for Falls Down.

"It was just more of a smaller, quieter work environment. But it's kind of around people that we kind of were similar to, that we're in the same situation as. A lot of us, we all kind of relate to each other, we're all in the same situations," Falls Down said.

Autumn Whiteman, the Hardin Academy's guidance counselor

“With the high number of needs that we have, including students in transition, students that have experienced trauma. We need a setting, a school that is smaller and more focused on helping the mental health of students,” said the academy's guidance counselor, Autumn Whiteman.

A Hardin native and former middle school teacher for the district, Whiteman has seen how focusing on behavioral health has made a positive impact on her students.

“We had three who got their diplomas today but in total we had, I believe, seven graduates in our little high school of 35,” Whiteman added.

With the opening of the new facility, 80 students have signed up for next year. Whiteman said that's 25% of the district's student population.

A view of the inside of the new Hardin Academy

“It’s been cool to see them work through challenges that they face and then come out on top,” said Whiteman.

It's given students like Falls Down the chance to finish their high school education.

“My mom and my uncle, they both didn’t graduate. They both dropped out,” Falls Down said.

The facility also has a One Health Clinic as well as a washing and drying machine and free food pantry that's accessible to students and staff.