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INDIANA: Goodwill opens charter schools to give dropouts a second chance at education

the-excel-centerINDIANAPOLIS — There were two things that always terrified Montaque Quentrel Koonce. Being homeless and doing math.

In 2008, he was forced to confront both of his fears at the same time. Koonce, a former high school dropout, was laid off from his assembly line job and then bounced from couch to couch, staying with friends who were willing to take him in.

Yet it wasn’t long before he was out of options and living in a shelter.

Koonce turned to Goodwill, the nonprofit well-known for tackling a variety of social problems and offering employment to the disabled, teen mothers and ex-convicts.

While working at one of the organization’s outlet stores, Koonce, 48, learned about Goodwill of Central Indiana’s Excel Center, a network of nine charter schools in his area designed to lure dropouts back to the classroom.

Koonce enrolled because, he said, without his diploma he had few prospects for future employment.

“Either, I was going to be without a job for the rest of my life or I needed to change the situation,” he said.

Changing a dropout’s situation is exactly what the Excel Center aims to do. The schools are built around small class sizes, with teachers who help students learn at their own pace. And Goodwill offers a host of services meant to discourage dropping out again.

There is no cost to attend an Excel Center school. Free childcare is available, weekend and night classes are held year-round and even transportation assistance is given to students who need it.

Despite the unique structure of the school, students are judged by the same academic standards as all Indiana students, which determines future state funding. The first Excel Center opened in 2010 with a charter approval from the Indianapolis mayor’s office.

The move into education reform marks a pivot for a charity primarily known for reselling donated goods. But Jim McClelland, president of Goodwill of Central Indiana, said his organization is staying true to its original mission and even trying to prevent classroom problems long before students have the chance to drop out.

McClelland pointed to Goodwill’s collaboration with Nurse-Family Partnership, an organization that provides pregnancy assistance to low-income, first-time mothers. The program provides a registered nurse who goes into the home on a weekly basis until the child is 2 years old and helps moms and other members of the family learn how to be good parents, McClelland said.

“It’s been a really good fit for us,” McClelland said, “because now we can help link these young moms, less than half of whom have a high school diploma, with education opportunities.”

Goodwill of Central Indiana started its education initiative with another institution geared toward reducing the dropout rate, the Indianapolis Metropolitan High School, which serves traditionally-aged students. It opened in 2004 and, like The Excel Center, offers the opportunity to earn college credit and technical certifications before graduation.

Since the first Excel Center charter school opened in 2010, more than 400 adults have earned their diplomas through the program, including Montaque Quenterel Koonce. He finished with a 3.2 GPA in 2012 and later found a job at a packaging warehouse for Amazon.

“I feel the second half of my life I can get where I’m supposed to be now,” Koonce said.

Goodwill’s headquarters said the organization is studying the Indianapolis model and trying to determine if other states will be able duplicate the effort.

Source: PBS Newshour – by Mike Fritz

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This entry was posted on January 17, 2014 by in Charter Schools, Indiana, States.

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