The little class that could
A successful group of grads strengthen the concept of public boarding schools.
(Page 2 of 2)
To do this, they went about choosing teachers from different backgrounds, charting their own curriculum, and keeping down class sizes - things all charter schools do. But their main innovation was to have the students live at school.Skip to next paragraph
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"There are so many considerations outside the classroom that can jeopardize academic instruction," says Mr. Adler. "Stability of the child's home, health issues, truancy... the list goes on." Boarding school is not for everyone, he says, but he and Mr. Vinnakota believe the supervision and structure can work for many.
SEED students must be DC residents, but stay overnight at the campus on weekdays and some weekends. Tutors helps with homework, a school psychologist and career counselor are always at hand. Three square meals are served daily in the spacious dining room, extracurricular activities like tech or drama club take up the late afternoons, and outings to museums and plays are frequent.
Spurred by their success, Adler and Vinnakota now run the SEED foundation, which aims to create more public charter boarding schools across the US.
"It's critical, because there are so many kids who are not getting the education or the exposure they need or deserve," says Adler, adding that options are being looked into and it is possible another SEED school - either in D.C. or in California - will open within a year. "We made it happen here, and we will make it happen again," he says.
A can-do attitude has been a key to SEED's success. When Deon and others entered SEED six years ago, classes took place at the city's Children's Museum, and dorm space was found at a nearby community college.
But, soon, the SEED Foundation acquired an abandoned school building and transformed it into a sprawling campus. Dorms were built, security systems installed, Internet-enabled computers plugged in, and a gym and a library were dedicated. It became, they joke, "Andover - but free."
All of this, of course, is not really free. The school is funded by a combination of the public monies awarded to any charter school and private donations from individuals, foundations, and corporations. So far, SEED has raised $21 million privately, to cover building and operating costs.
Some critics claim that the expense of the project makes SEED unsustainable, and argue the money would be spent on bettering the existing public system.
"Considering how difficult it's been to get increased funding for the public schools, and taking into account that there is a limited pot of public money, as well as a limit seemingly to philanthropy - we have a problem," says Susan Nogan, a senior policy analyst at the National Education Association, a teachers' union.
SEED receives about $24,000 per student annually from Washington's City Council - more than twice the $9,000 a year allocated for most D.C. public school students. "I would prefer to see an alternative found within the public school," says Ms. Nogan, "instead of a small model like this which only helps a few."
Those few kids benefiting, however, are certainly not complaining. Deon's great- aunt saw SEED advertised on the side of a bus, he recalls, and pretty much forced him to go, even though his neighborhood friends thought it was strange.
Who goes away to school, they would ask? Only bad kids. He grins. "I didn't like it one bit," he says. "Who wants to leave home? The thought of living with people I didn't even know at all - it was crazy!"
Today, however, with his younger sister two grades behind him at SEED and his younger siblings all begging to join too, he thanks his lucky stars that bus rolled by in front of his aunt. Is his family proud?
"Yeah," he says, grinning. "They call me the big man on campus. That's me."