History of Betty Wheeler Classical Junior Academy
Betty Wheeler Classical Junior Academy is a full-time, tuition-free Gifted and Talented Magnet School located just south of “The Hill,” a historic Italian neighborhood in St. Louis, MO. Built in 1928, and dedicated in 1930, BWCJA formerly served as a Junior Naval ROTC Middle School, JNROTC High School, and as a centralized pupil personnel services facility. After serving thousands of students and their families for more than five decades, Kennard School closed in 1989 and reopened in 1990 as an elementary Gifted and Talented Magnet School as part of the magnet school system tied to the city’s desegregation plan. In 2022, the school was renamed in honor of Betty Wheeler, a life-long educator and the founder of Metro High School. The diverse student population consists of urban and suburban students from a wide range of cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and socio-economic groups. Student acceptance to BWCJA is in accordance to the state criteria for gifted identification, as well as Saint Louis Public Schools’ criteria for magnet school placement.
The school’s vision is to provide a unique, safe, and nurturing school fostering academic achievement and serving the diverse population of gifted and talented students. BWCJA provides a student-centered, inquiry-based gifted curriculum designed to develop creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Student achievement data affirms that the school is on the right track of achieving our vision through narrowing the achievement gap in math and communication arts and supporting gifted students who are either struggling or exceeding expectations in their core content areas. Students attending BWCJA have divergent learning needs that not only require a special curriculum, but specialized staff and resources to implement the curriculum with fidelity. Since BWCJA does not qualify for special state or federal funding, the learning community relies on trained, dedicated, and flexible professionals who not only train staff, but also provide educational programs to students.
BWCJA Tiger Pride permeates the school. Brightly colored murals painted by students, teachers, and parents serve as teaching tools. A day-at-a-glance consists of the following: medical interns from Washington University providing a hands-on explanation of the brain to third graders; students receiving individual or small group tutoring; students hanging posters to promote a service-learning project; Tiger Family meetings; or grade level teachers planning lessons. An evening-at-a-glance consists of the following: volunteers setting up for the book fair, school dance, or parent/teacher meeting; Boy Scout Pack meetings; Girl Scout Troop meetings; or after-school chess club.
BWCJA has the following awards: 2017 National School of Character; 2016 and 2022 Missouri State School of Character; 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 Promising Practice in Character Education; 2003, 2009, and 2015 Missouri Gold Star Award. Also, as a recipient of the prestigious 2009 and 2016 National Blue Ribbon Award, the staff aspires to implement the latest innovations and best practices in teaching and learning.
BWCJA’s professional learning community supports the needs of gifted students by implementing the policies and practices defined by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). As a result, BWCJA stakeholders dedicate high expectations regarding student achievement and readily accept responsibility for student learning.