By Tracie N. Jenkins
“In America right now, a kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. These drop-outs are 8 times more likely to go to prison, 50 percent less likely to vote, more likely to need social welfare assistance, not eligible for 90 percent of jobs, are being paid 40 cents to the dollar of earned by a college graduate, and continuing the cycle of poverty.” – Waiting for Superman Campaign
Waiting for Superman, the documentary film about education in the USA, paints a dismal picture of a public education system that inhibits rather than inspires the intellectual growth of children. But outside of the system’s constraints shines a ray of opportunity–charter schools.
The Wall Street Journal reports, “According to the Center for Education Reform, more than 5,000 charters are now operating in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Considering that the first charter didn’t open until 1992, and that these innovative schools have faced outright hostility from teachers unions and the education bureaucracy, their growth is a rare gleam of hope for American public schools.”
Christensen has chosen three select sites to launch his charter school concept in Texas, including, one at Bethel’s Learning Center, in southwest Houston. The school will be housed in the Church at Bethel’s Family campus at 14442 Fonmeadow.
The charter school targets low-income students who may have floundered in the traditional school system.
As the charter versus traditional public school debate wages on, the truth remains, that open enrollment charter schools like Arrow Academy are free of the obstacles and arcane regulations that cripple many traditional public schools.
Bureaucratic strongholds often prohibit progression toward teaching models that may better aid child growth. Authorized by the State Board of Education, Arrow Academy complies with all performance expectations, but their mission is simple: meet student needs.
Superintendent Dr. Jim Christensen holds firm to that mission.
“I was motivated by the opportunity to create an innovative environment that puts the very best people, processes, and instruction in place to serve the children,” he says.
Darlene Breaux, director of Arrow Academy at Bethel’s Learning Center, explains Arrow Academy’s approach: “One of the main things that was important to Arrow Academy is that we hire teachers that were very high nurturing,” says Breaux. “We needed teachers who cared about kids.”
Research shows that students with high performing teachers progressed three times as fast as those with low performing teachers. Children need the best people in place to aid their educational growth.
These kinds of teachers do the very things that Arrow Academy promotes. They increase academic performance, develop leadership skills and encourage good character traits in their students.
“Character education is a daily process,” says Christensen. “We do not want to just teach character, we want to reveal character in the kids in our school.”
New York Daily News pinpoints this “philosophy of benevolent paternalism” as the secret of charter school success. Schools like Arrow Academy are distinguished “institutions that aim not only to build students’ academic skills, but to shape their character.” This dynamic makes all the difference.
From kindergarten to 12th grade, schooling dominates a child’s daily life, and for most public institutions, character education is not in the lesson plan. Because of standardized test demands, some institutions end up “teaching the test” rather than the student. But Arrow Academy rejects this focus.
“We are not covering content in Arrow Academy,” Christensen asserts. “We are teaching kids.”
Breaux adds, “Our goal is mastery, not teaching to the minimum standard.”
The Wall Street Journal states that “students who attend [charter] schools, which are concentrated in urban areas, tend to be low-income minorities. Yet they regularly outperform their peer groups in traditional public schools often located blocks away.”
Though Arrow Academy receives operational funding per student (typically less than other public schools), the school “does not receive capital funds for the school building. This generates a significant cost savings to the taxpayers.” Even so, fundraising for the beginning school semesters is an ongoing need since public funding arrives only after the school year begins.
This continuing struggle, however, has not distracted Arrow Academy at Bethel’s Learning Center from its mission.
“Bethel’s staff work from the heart and then back up their love for the community with action,” says Christensen.
“The great leadership in Bethel and 100% commitment will help define and allow our organization to put forth the best in education for the community.”
Though some public schools meet government standards, evidence of widespread underachievement continues. The U.S. ranked 25th in math literacy out of 30 developed countries in 2006, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Math and reading skills have flatlined since the 1970s, despite the billions of dollars poured into the traditional educational system each year and the fact that every president from Lyndon B. Johnson to Barrack Obama claims education as a priority.
“Yet the lessons of these outstanding [charter] schools have been largely ignored,” states New York Daily News. This refusal to recognize charter school success is nationwide with 10 states going so far as to ban charter schools from competing with the traditional public school model. Somewhere, the focus on the children is lost.
In 2020, there will be 123 million high-skilled, high-paying jobs in America, but only a projected 50 million citizens will have the technical skills to fill the positions. Bill Gates says that this is directly related to education and Breaux agrees, but asserts that Arrow Academy has goals related to solving this problem.
“Our goal of education is to prepare and create individuals who are capable of being productive citizens as well as prepare them for the work force,” says Breaux.
Even at Bethel’s Learning Center, a K-5th grade facility, Breaux contends that the a vision for the future stays prominent.
Arrow Academy’s overall response to this nationwide dilemma nods at what sets them apart from other charter schools. In addition to graduating with a diploma, each student will receive a semester of college, work certifications, and after-graduation mentorship. According to Christensen, Arrow Academy does this “to ensure that each student will be living and enjoying a satisfying life and be a contributing member of their community.”