YWCA Rhode Island has the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) approval to create an online charter school designed for at-risk high school students.
The Sheila C. “Skip” Nowell Leadership Academy Charter School will combine online studies with classroom work and is aimed specifically at students whose family responsibilities interfere with their attendance at high school. That includes teenagers who are pregnant or already parents, who are responsible for taking care of other family members, who are victims of domestic abuse or who lack family support.
“We are trying to solve a problem for a specific demographic of students that everyone would agree is underserved and difficult to address in mainstream education, and we are doing so in a very pragmatic way,” said Deborah L. Perry, CEO of YWCA Rhode Island.
The Board of Regents has granted preliminary approval, which means it approves of the concept and design for the charter school. In coming months, YWCA will work with RIDE to make sure the program meets state rules and regulations; YWCA staff also will be looking for classroom sites. Final approval from the Board of Regents is anticipated in April, and the goal is to open the school in September 2013.
The regents’ action also means the YWCA is eligible to apply for a $50,000 federal Charter School Program grant to cover the steps toward the final approval. The agency may also apply for up to $300,000 over a three-year period to pay start-up costs.
What makes the Nowell Academy unique is that in addition to the online coursework, which makes the school schedule flexible, it will provide
a host of support services including day care for students’ children. Finding suitable child care is a major obstacle for young parents who want to continue their education.
The charter school also will offer family planning services, health and nutrition workshops, and preventive health care for infants and young children, as well as employability and vocational training and access to higher education for its students.
The academic program will follow the NovaNET curriculum, nationally recognized for its success in improving school performance by students who need an alternative path to graduation. All students will receive a computer with wireless capability so they will be able to access the program every day of the week, any time of day.
Each student will have an individualized education plan, but everyone will be required to spend at least 15 hours a week with teachers and fellow students at one of the brick-and-mortar sites. The plan calls for sites in Central Falls and Providence during the first year, eventually expanding to a total of four centers.
Student achievement will be determined by the data collection system built into NovaNET as well as through teacher evaluations and standardized testing such as the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP), the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT and PSAT).
The Nowell Academy already has garnered support from the Providence and Central Falls school departments, educational and social service agencies, teen parents and more than 50 individuals and organizations involved in developing the Statewide Plan to Reduce the Rates of Teen Pregnancy and Support Young Families.
Although the Nowell Academy is being established by YWCA Rhode Island, it will become its own operation, led by a head of school and governed by a board of directors.
Barbara Sokoloff Associates, a development and community planning consulting firm in Providence is providing professional expertise to make the YWCA school vision become a reality.