Here to Stay, Built to Last

As a junior- and senior-high student I needed more one-on-one teaching/learning; I struggled in some classes. Being in a group of forty kids, I felt intimated. Every few minutes I had questions; I didn't want to stop the lecture with my incessant inquires, so I just sat back, frustrated, wanting to give up. I was in desperate need of individual attention--the sort I might have received more readily in a charter school. But I missed the charter bus by eight years.

The first charter school in the United States took root in St. Paul in 1991. As of today, there are currently over 1,100 charter schools nationwide and in Canada. While Minnesota once led the way with charter school development, our state has leveled off some in recent years. Charter legislation varies from state to state, yet the basic "charter idea" is that these schools are given autonomy and are deregulated.

The 1997-1998 National Charter School Directory reports that forty percent of charters serve drop out/at-risk students; twenty-two percent were started up and/or run by parents; nineteen percent are converted public schools; and one percent offer a home or independent study program.

Steve Dess, Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, says there will be forty-one operating charter schools in Minnesota as of fall 1998, however, many are open year-round. In Minneapolis and St. Paul plans are underway to start fifteen to twenty new charters--once they become sponsored--by the 1999-2000 school year.

Two new charters of particular interest are Twin Cities Academy and Skills for Tomorrow Junior and Senior High School.

Twin Cities Academy--a publicly funded charter middle school sponsored by the St. Paul Public Schools--will open this autumn. The school will concentrate on basic, core subjects: English, social studies, science, math, and Spanish. Students will have individualized daily advisories with a mentor who will help them set effective goals in preparing for the transition to future vocations.

School organizers (educators and parents) have chosen seventh grade as the sole focus for the 1998-'99 school. In fall of 1999, the school will expand to grades six through eight.

The middle school approach will make the most of educational opportunities during this crucial developmental phase. Twin Cities Academy hopes to attract those students who are turned away by established junior highs that lack space for all applicants from outside their neighborhood area.

Bruce Vandal, School Director at Twin Cities Academy, says, "All schools should have high expectations of all students. Students are able to be and should be challenged more than they are. Because we are a smaller school, and because of our commitment, we have the opportunity to work more one-on-one, to do individualized work. Investing time and energy into the students so they can succeed, not compromise."

Skills for Tomorrow--"a school for people going somewhere"--is a year-round charter school--sponsored by Goodwill/Easter Seal and chartered under the St. Paul Schools--for junior and senior high school students (seventh to twelfth grade), and will open in St. Paul on September 8.

It's a public school with a mission: to successfully prepare students for the workplace. Along with the primary classes, skills such as team building, leadership, conflict management, applied math, and workplace communications will be taught. Special education services are available to eligible students.

Skills for Tomorrow emphasizes learning by doing, with "hands-on," in project-based activities. Students explore their interests and set life goals through career shadowing, community-service projects, and internships. Skills for Tomorrow focuses on the skills that kids need to become happier, more productive contributors to the world.

Twin Cities Academy is currently accepting applications for seventy-five seventh graders, and is also still recruiting teachers and volunteers to assist with the school. For more information, contact Bruce Vandal, school director, at 281-0855, or visit the Academy's website at:

Contact Tess Tiernan, Program Director at Skills for Tomorrow Junior and Senior High School at 305-2969 for more information on their program.

Julia Ramirez is associate editor of Minnesota Parent.

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