September 19, 2015

Charter schools offer options

Students at Guadalupe School, which is celebrating their 50th Anniversary this academic year, use art to explore their culture and embrace diversity. A student at Guadalupe School uses art to explore his culture and embrace diversity. Students at Dual Immersion Academy actively work to revive their garden. They are excited to eat the radishes they planted.  
Students at Guadalupe School, which is celebrating their 50th Anniversary this academic year, use art to explore their culture and embrace diversity.|A student at Guadalupe School uses art to explore his culture and embrace diversity.|Students at Dual Immersion Academy actively work to revive their garden. They are excited to eat the radishes they planted.  || Students at Guadalupe School, which is celebrating their 50th Anniversary this academic year, use art to explore their culture and embrace diversity.|A student at Guadalupe School uses art to explore his culture and embrace diversity.|Students at Dual Immersion Academy actively work to revive their garden. They are excited to eat the radishes they planted.  || ||||
By The West View

Traditional public schools are not always the right fit for every family. Some west-side families have turned to public charter schools for their children's educational needs.

Four public charter schools are found on the west side: Guadalupe, Dual Immersion Academy, Pacific Heritage Academy, and Salt Lake Center for Science Education.

All charter schools are publicly funded, and all schools, whether charter or not, get an annual report card and a letter grade based on student performance on the state-mandated SAGE test. Visit https://datagateway.schools.utah.gov to see all school grades in Utah.

Keep in mind that the school grades may not accurately reflect the competency and incredible effort by teachers and staff, the importance of teaching cultural education, the growth of a student's confidence or even the newfound resources charter schools make available to struggling families.

The west side has higher poverty rates and a larger number of English language learners. Historically, students within this demographic score lower on standardized tests like SAGE because of lower English proficiency and issues related to socioeconomic status.

Each west-side charter school has a nontraditional approach to helping students succeed. For many families on the west side, that uniqueness has made positive impacts for their children.

The unique mission of every charter school is what sets it apart from a traditional public school.

Guadalupe School

Guadalupe School and its founders have been contributing to the west-side community since 1966, and the school is the only charter on the west side that has a nonprofit component.

Former Development Director Beth Branson summarized the overarching goal of Guadalupe School perfectly. "The idea is that we are really supporting the entire family with all of our programs," she said.

Guadalupe lives this mission by housing three of its four programs, in addition to the school, in one building for easy family access.

The school's four nonprofit programs that prepare children for the charter school are the In-Home program, Toddler Beginnings, Preschool, and English as a Second Language for parents.

The In-Home program serves 85 children with weekly visits year-round before age 1. Toddler Beginnings, an extension of the In-Home program for 1- and 2-year-olds, is pivotal in identifying a child's developmental needs before school age. Preschool, which serves 80 families, focuses on kindergarten readiness and includes subjects like math and English. English as a Second Language empowers parents and helps them access valuable resources.

In 2007 Guadalupe became a charter school; prior to that, it was an extension of the Salt Lake Catholic Diocese. The uniqueness of the charter, which serves kindergarten through sixth grades, is that it complements programs that focus on early intervention for students. Guadalupe focuses on a child from infancy to pre-teenage years without ignoring the family.

Ninety percent of students' families qualify for free or reduced lunch, and the majority are Hispanic with English as a second language. Since moving to its new location in Rose Park, classroom sizes have doubled and parents participate on the school's board. Former Executive Director Vicki Mori attributes higher performance for those children who have been with Guadalupe since the In-Home program to their holistic approach.

Dual-Immersion Academy

Dual-Immersion is a dual-language charter for English and Spanish that just finished its seventh year as a charter school. It recently has undergone administrative changes and the current interim director, Angela Fanjul, has been with the school in different capacities for the past seven years.

It began as a 50/50 model for Spanish immersion, but since has introduced the 90/10 model. It begins in kindergarten and first grade with 90 percent of the class conducted in Spanish. That way, children who speak Spanish at home will have an easier transition to grade school, and those who don't will have English spoken at home and can immerse in Spanish to acquire the skill set faster.

The Spanish content decreases and the English content increases by 10 percent each year, and the ratio is 50/50 in fifth through eighth grades. The goal, supported by a full bilingual staff, is for children to read, write and speak proficiently in both languages.

Academically, children take tests like Dibble and Star Reading tests in both languages. The school also teaches main course curriculums like math and English. The administration is focused on celebrating bilingualism and finds different ways to instill pride in children for speaking both languages. Ninety percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and most students are Hispanic.

Aldo, an eighth-grader, was enrolled in broadcast journalism as an elective offered to students who are reading at grade level or above. Aldo, 14, is also involved in a program at the school called Latinos in Action.

"It's a program where Latinos get together and do service," he said. "We go to a conference and they talk about why it is so important to go to college. I know my teachers want us to go far in life."

His dream job is to be a video game designer. He is glad his education has helped him communicate with his grandmother, who only speaks Spanish.

Pacific Heritage Academy

Pacific Heritage Academy was founded three years ago by a group of Polynesian mothers who were looking for an education for their children that would acknowledge the power of heritage and culture in a person's life.

PHA has students from Kindergarten through eighth grade with varying diversity from Native Americans, primarily Ute and Navajo, Pacific Islanders, whites and Hispanics. One-third of students learn English as a second language, and 90 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch.

The school identifies as having a rigorous academic program that focuses around the model of what skills students have, what they stand for, and what kind of work they produce. A soft skills component teaches qualities like courage, compassion, craftsmanship, responsibility, and perseverance, which are discussed in daily crew meetings.

Classrooms are set up in "villages," and everyone has a value. Children stay close to the same students and teachers for two years to provide a safe learning environment. Eighth-graders make an annual trip to Hawaii to learn about a community and culture different than their own.

Recently the school received its first KaBOOM! grant and parents and the community came together to raise $10.000 with over 300 volunteers to build a playground.

Salt Lake Center for Science Education

SLCSE has just concluded its third year as a charter school. As a district funded charter, it adheres to a majority of the Salt Lake City School District curriculum. The name illustrates that it is a school with a strong focus on the sciences that promotes community by teaching students to care about one another and be healthy risk takers.

With about 400 students in sixth through 12th grades, the school has a minority population of about 55 percent and a low-income population of about the same size.

According to the Utah State Office of Education, about 95 percent of the school's 44 seniors graduated in 2014. This is far above the statewide 83 percent graduation rate in the same year.

Director Larry Madden attributes the success of the young school to its approach to teaching. SLCSE does not put any student on a track system. If students require special education or have English as a second language for example, they are still mainstreamed into the classes and are provided additional support by staff and peers.

One example of this philosophy to work is that while all ninth-grade students are required to take physics, they also have an extensive writing and reading curriculum along with catering the sciences to have a strong engineering and art component.

There is nothing traditional about how they choose to engage the students. The school wants math and science to be fun and messy like it is in real life.

Other Charter Schools in SLC

Three other nearby charter schools serve students in the Salt Lake City School District: Salt Lake Arts Academy, Open Classroom, City Academy, and the School for the Performing Arts (at Highland High School).

All these charter schools constantly work to stay competitive and offer a safe environment for their students to learn. They can be a possible alternative for families looking to incorporate their values into their student's education. Parents should carefully research and compare schools to make the best choice for their children.