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Stanislaus Military Academy decreases drill instruction, increases academic quality
Stanislaus Military Academy students Sade Ledezma and Luis Galvan stand by a planter labeled with one of the academys core values. Discipline, commitment, respect, courage, and honor are all values that are instilled in students during their time at SMA. - photo by ALYSSON AREDAS / The Journal

Stanislaus Military Academy has made the administrative decision this year to shift its focus towards academic quality by decreasing class sizes, implementing class periods, and increasing educational instruction.

With these changes, SMA hopes to see a significant improvement in student achievement while continuing to adhere to the academy’s core values of commitment, discipline, respect, courage and honor.

“We looked at the program in its entirety and determined the elements that needed to be redefined,” said new Principal Daniel Vannest. “We want to make sure that academics are a priority.”

This year, the academy upgraded its technology on campus to include 20 brand new computers. The computers will allow students to take part in Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which is state-led test administered online to measure student achievement towards college and career readiness.  

The new computer lab will also give students the opportunity to engage in individual style learning, while still receiving the assistance they need from teachers and staff. Vannest added that individual activities will also be supplemented with group instruction within the computer lab.

In addition, SMA has recently made the instructional decision to move from having one class period during the day to separate class periods, such as those in a regular high school. SMA hopes that this shift in instructional setting will allow for greater student and staff success.

“The implementation of class periods helps a student who might have issues with a certain teacher by giving them a fresh start with another teacher during the next period,” said Vannest. “In addition, teachers are more comfortable teaching their strengths and focusing on one area, rather than teaching everything.” 

Striving for quality rather than quantity, SMA has also scaled back on the size of the program itself, decreasing its student body numbers from over 200 last year to an estimated 130 this year. The school also made the decision to cut back on the amount of time dedicated to drill instruction throughout the day.

“We cut back on drill instruction in order to focus more on education and academics,” added Vannest. “We are refocusing on academics and really pushing for these students’ commitment to change.”

All of these changes come after allegations surrounding SMA’s strict disciplinary measures in a school-wide controversy that occurred last year.

Last October, Francine Sanchez filed a complaint after her son, Reece, sprained his wrist, arguing that the academy’s disciplinary measures are too harsh.  Sanchez said that a drill sergeant at SMA caused Reece to fall and sprain his wrist when he shook the end of a lunch bench that the student was sitting on.

An investigation followed the complaint and the principal at the time, Alberto Velarde, was put on paid leave. Since then the academy has witnessed a change in principals and instructional values.

SMA said that last year’s incident was not a factor in the academy’s shift towards academic quality this year.

Despite the tension that resulted from last year’s incident and the changes that followed, students still continue to view SMA as a beneficial environment.

Luis Galvan admits that he was not the best student before attending SMA, declaring that the school has changed his attitude completely.

“I am able to see things more clearly and think before I speak,” said Galvan. “We are actually learning in class and having fun. I consider the drill sergeants as leaders and friends.”

Student Sade Ledezma echoed Galvan’s sentiments, complimenting SMA’s principal and drill sergeants on their hard work.

“I think the school is great, it changed me,” said Ledezma. “I see the drill sergeants as role models. They talk to me and make sure that I am doing my job. They gave me a different perspective and taught me how to appreciate everything.”