PRIDE Academy students learn life lessons


Students at the newest Bullard ISD campus recently had the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom, as students attending PRIDE Academy gathered in the parking lot for lessons in automotive car and maintenance with the help of local car enthusiasts.

The day spent around several different makes and models of vehicles is just one day’s worth of outside-the-classroom educational experiences that has come about through a partnership with a local businesswoman that is leading an effort to invest in the life of students attending PRIDE Academy.

“As a spinoff from her involvement with Panther Partners last year, Laura Stremmel with Austin Bank here in Bullard has adopted our campus somewhat of a service project out of the goodness of her heart,” said Donna Jeffus, Bullard ISD Coordinator for Alterative Education and CTE. “She got with me last spring and said she was interested in offering students the opportunity to learn some real world lessons inside and outside the classroom.”

With help from Austin Bank in sponsoring her endeavors, Stremmel has become a familiar face on the PRIDE Academy campus, as she has led several classroom lessons in topics such as automotive care, banking, job interview preparation, and more.

“Laura is providing our students lessons they wouldn’t normally learn inside of a standard classroom,” said Jeffus. “For instance, she has taught them how to balance a checkbook, fill out a job application, build a résumé, fill out and file taxes, and other ‘grown up responsibilities.’ The students have really learned a lot from her time in the classroom and hopefully they’ll be a little more prepared for the future when they graduate.”

The thought for the automotive clinic event at PRIDE Academy was one of Jeffus’ favorite events this semester, as the event brought in a 1965 Ford Mustang owned by Bullard resident Matt Rogers, a Whataburger Rock ‘N Roll race car owned by Flint resident Kevin Simpson, and a work truck from Campbell Custom Homes, owned by Bullard resident and Bullard ISD school board member Jason Campbell.

“She [Laura] had a lot of ideas and put forth a lot of planning when it came to the automotive event,” said Jeffus. “She went around and told people in the community she wanted to do an automotive maintenance clinic for the PRIDE students because it’s a very important lesson to learn, especially when you start driving and when you get out on your own after high school. Subjects such as auto repair used to be taught in classrooms, but aren’t anymore. There were different stations with the different cars that were at the clinic, and the volunteers were so gracious to teach the students lessons in changing a tire, checking the oil, and more. It was a sight to see some of the students attempt to use the tools to change the tire on the race car.”

Jeffus said with the partnership with PRIDE Academy, Panther Partners, and local community members, more people are able to see what is going on at the new Bullard ISD campus.

“It was a great opportunity to get a little more exposure to what we’re doing at PRIDE Academy,” said Jeffus. “We still have a lot of people that simply do not know what we are doing here – some think we’re the campus for the ‘bad kids,’ but we have a large range of students attending classes on our campus. There’s definitely people in the community who want to help do something, and this event was successful because both the volunteers and students enjoyed it.”

In 2016, Jeffus, then Bullard High School Dean of Academics, created Panther Partners to meet the needs of students, as well as staff members. The organization’s goal at its inception was to find all the time, talent, and treasure that is available in the Bullard community to support BHS

Jeffus said that she realized the need for a program such as Panther Partners when she returned to BHS after spending several years at Bullard Elementary School.

“Panther Partners was an idea that I had this summer,” said Jeffus. “I realized when I returned to the high school from the elementary school that elementary schools have more of a support group, such as a PTO, available to them that secondary schools do not. There’s such a need for group that extend further than PTOs at secondary schools. We have a lot of lot of students here whose basic needs are not being met.”

According to Jeffus, several needs for students at BHS include mentoring and tutoring, working with students of attendance and behavioral modification, and basic physical needs, things that many people take for granted.

The Bullard ISD PRIDE Academy graduation program is a separate program and campus for nontraditional students, as well as a program developed for at-risk students, potential dropouts, and accelerate graduation program for students to successfully graduate BHS with an individualized schedule.

According to Jeffus, she was approached by Schneider in January to research the new program, which was approved by Bullard ISD in March, allowing PRIDE Academy to officially open its doors in August to begin the 2017-2018 school year.

‘More and more schools across the state and the nation are offering alternative methods to allow students to achieve and receive their high school diplomas,” said Jeffus. “We’ve also seen a lot of students who have a nontraditional home life, have fallen behind in credits and are at risk of dropping out, and students who need to speed things up in terms of graduating. The answer to this for many school districts has been to offer a different setting away from the main campus at their own pace.”

According to information made available to the Bullard Banner News, the vision of the new Bullard ISD PRIDE Academy is to “provide an alternative path to a Texas high school diploma, eliminating as many distractions as possible while serving students who do not thrive in a traditional setting.”

Likewise, the Bullard ISD PRIDE Academy’s mission is to “provide a structured environment serving the students of Bullard ISD who need an alternative setting for completing high school graduation requirements.

Since PRIDE Academy began at the start of the 2017-2018 school year, the campus has helped a total of 10 BHS students receive their high school diplomas. The campus will also have a number of graduates participating in the BHS Class of 2018 Commencement, to be held Saturday, May 26, at Tyler Junior College’s Wagstaff Gymnasium.

For more information about the new Bullard ISD PRIDE Academy or to become a volunteer with the PRIDE Academy campus, contact Jeffus by emailing


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