Selected readings on US charter schools
The Sheila C. “Skip” Nowell Leadership Academy is a new Rhode Island charter school that aims to provide a specific blend of support to at-risk high school students — especially teenagers who are young mothers and fathers.
The school, which launched on Sept. 11, offers a different kind of pathway to a high school diploma for 160 students, including 85 students who are either pregnant or parenting.
The learning environment, which might serve as a model someday for other institutions elsewhere in the nation, was engineered to accommodate students who can benefit from a flexible schedule, rigorous academic standards and some special services, according to Deborah Perry, who co-chairs the school’s board of directors.
“This is a population that no one has figured out yet how to serve and serve successfully,” Perry said on Sunday, as the academy made preparations for a dedication ceremony this morning.
In the past, teens who dropped out of high school due to pregnancy or other challenges in their personal lives often pursued general equivalency degrees.
But this charter school aims to help at-risk students reach the same level of achievement as students in traditional high school settings and also earn their diplomas, which many employers regard as more valuable than an equivalency degree.
The flexibility of the schedule, geared to help students balance high school education with child-rearing or working a job, is one of the things that makes it different.
Students are expected to show up for 15 hours of “on-site” schoolwork each week and log another 15 hours of schoolwork “off-site,” learning in an online setting where they perform assignments and have additional interaction with their instructors, according to Perry.
The two “on-site” facilities are at the YWCA in Central Falls and at Nickerson Community Center in Providence’s Olneyville section.
Unlike traditional high schools, the charter operates on a year-round schedule.
With a $2-million budget and a staff of 17, the school also offers some special services tailored for its student population.
For example, childcare is available for young mothers and fathers at the Olneyville facility.
Other special services offered through the academy include nutritional instruction and health-care support.
While students might progress at different paces, the education they receive is in line with what’s taught at other high schools, Perry said.
“The students have to meet all standards that all the other students in the state have to meet,” said Perry, who is chief executive officer of YWCA Rhode Island, one of the academy’s sponsors.
The academy’s founders, said Perry, looked around the country for a model as they developed the school.
“There was nothing like this we could find in the country,” she said. “We think it has the ability to be a national model.”
Source: The Providence Journal – by Mark Reynolds