Chal­lenge Char­ter Academy re­ceives $1 mil­lion grant

De­part­ment of La­bor awarded funds

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - By Jenny Thompson

Cindy Simp­son, di­rec­tor of Project Ad­ven­ture, re­cently an­nounced the United States De­part­ment of La­bor awarded the Chal­lenge Foun­da­tion oun­da­tion $ 1 mil­lion for the or­ga­ni­za­tion of Chal­lenge Char­ter Academy at the for­mer cam­pus of R. L Cousins High School.

“ It’s a big grant,” Simp­son said, “ and we’re one of six in the coun­try that got it.”

In early May the Em­ploy- ment and Train­ing Ad­min­is­tra­tion of the De­part­ment of La­bor made ap­prox­i­mately $ 20 mil­lion avail­able for Youth­ful Of­fender Grants.

The grants are dis­trib­uted in one of three cat­e­gories — for the place­ment of ju­ve­niles re­leased from the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem into reg­is­tered ap­pren­tice­ships, for ex­pand­ing projects serv­ing ju­ve­nile of­fend­ers and for the de­vel­op­ment of al­ter­na­tive ed­u­ca­tion path­ways.

Project Ad­ven­ture’s Chal­lenge Foun­da­tion will re­ceive funds for in­creas­ing al­ter­na­tive ed­u­ca­tion through Chal­lenge Char­ter Academy, which is sched­uled to open to stu­dents in Au­gust 2008.

“ The whole idea is to look at kids who are re­ally at risk of drop­ping out, who can’t func­tion in a tra­di­tional high school or who al­ready have dropped out,” Simp­son said. “ It’s all about in­creas­ing the grad­u­a­tion rate and de­creas­ing the drop out rate.”

Simp­son ex­plained how a teacher and coun­selor will lead ev­ery class, which will have a max­i­mum of 15 stu­dents.

She said the char­ter school’s con­cen­tra­tion on ca­reer skills and at­tain­ment and small class and stu­dent body size will cater to a dif­fer­ent kind of stu­dent than the county’s ex­ist­ing al­ter­na­tive school, Sharp Learn­ing Cen­ter.

“ The smaller num­ber of kids you have in a school like Sharp,” Simp­son said, “ the bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion they re­ceive.”

Linda Hay­den, New­ton County as­so­ci­ate su­per­in­ten­dent for cur­ricu­lum, said the school will serve ap­prox­i­mately 120 at- risk mid­dle and high school stu­dents in its first year.

“ It will also serve stu­dents in the res­i­den­tial pro­grams who are wards of the state and are re­ferred gen­er­ally by DFACS [ De­part­ment of Fam­ily and Child Ser­vices] or the De­part­ment of Ju­ve­nile Jus­tice,” Hay­den said.

She added Sharp Learn­ing Cen­ter does not of­fer resi- den­tial pro­grams as Chal­lenge Academy will.

“ Stu­dents placed at Sharp are gen­er­ally re­ferred by a tri­bunal for be­hav­ioral is­sues.

Jes­sica Robin­son, di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tional de­vel­op­ment for the Chal­lenge Foun­da­tion, ex­plained how she and Simp­son are work­ing closely with the New­ton County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion and cen­tral of­fice ad­min­is­tra­tion to en­sure the school achieves its goals.

She said al­though a large por­tion of the fund­ing for the ren­o­va­tion of the old Cousins build­ing comes from a youth­ful of­fender grant, the academy will not solely cater to stu­dents in­volved in the ju­ve­nile jus­tice sys­tem.

“ Be­cause it is a char­ter school, it is a pub­lic school that any­one in New­ton County can en­roll in,” Robin­son said.

The at­ten­dance zone of the academy ex­tends through­out the en­tirety of New­ton County. Ap­pli­cants will be se­lected ran­domly for en­roll­ment.

Robin­son said credit re­cov­ery would be a large part of the cur­ricu­lum for the academy.

She ex­plained the school’s unique dis­ci­pline pol­icy.

“ We don’t have sus­pen­sion as an op­tion,” Robin­son said. “ If you get in trou­ble for cer­tain of­fenses, then you go to boot camp.”

Project De­ci­sion is a sub­sti­tute for out- of- school sus­pen­sion cur­rently op­er­at­ing in New­ton County. The fa­cil­ity pro­vides con­se­quences for in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior in school as well as a ther­apy pro­gram.

Simp­son said be­cause the academy is a pub­lic school, it will re­ceive Spe­cial Pur­pose Lo­cal Op­tion Sales Tax dol­lars for the stu­dents it serves who re­side in New­ton County.

Chatham County ap­proved plans to build a char­ter mid­dle school in 2006, mark­ing the first time in Ge­or­gia a char­ter school was added to a dis­trict’s SPLOST and a build­ing was pro­vided by the dis­trict.

Robin­son said the At­lanta Fal­cons Youth Foun­da­tion also awarded the Chal­lenge Foun­da­tion and the New­ton County Re­cre­ation De­part­ment with a $ 250,000 grant for the ren­o­va­tion of Cousins’ gym.

Chal­lenge Academy will use the gym dur­ing the day and the Re­cre­ation De­part­ment will use it for evening and week­end pro­grams.

Robin­son said the gym ren­o­va­tion not only gives two or­ga­ni­za­tions a place to pro­vide their ser­vices, but also pre­serves a piece of the county’s his­tory.

“ The gym right there is a re­ally a unique struc­ture be­cause of its cir­cu­lar shape and the fact it used to be­long to the African- Amer­i­can high school in the county,” Robin­son said.

From 4 p. m. to 6 p. m. on Dec. 6, the Chal­lenge Foun­da­tion and the Recre- ation De­part­ment will host a check pre­sen­ta­tion and re­cep­tion at the Cousins build­ing.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the At­lanta Fal­cons Youth Foun­da­tion, team mas­cot Freddy Fal­con and the New­ton County Com­mu­nity Band di­rected by T. K. Adams will be present at the event.

Robin­son also in­vited other lo­cal non- profit or­ga­ni­za­tions to the event to share in­for­ma­tion about their work with at­ten­dees.

“ My goal with the Chal­lenge Foun­da­tion is to re­ally be more in­volved in the com­mu­nity,” Robin­son said.

She cur­rently is await­ing word on sev­eral other grants in­clud­ing a $ 3 mil­lion Ca­reer Academy Grant from the of­fice of the Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor. The grant would al­low course de­vel­op­ment for part­ner­ing the academy with lo­cal tech­ni­cal col­leges.

“ We’re try­ing to re­ally fig­ure out what the needs are for New­ton County so we can of­fer those classes,” Robin­son said.

Robin­son and Simp­son ex­pected State School Board ap­proval for the academy on Dec. 12.

For more in­for­ma­tion about De­part­ment of La­bor Youth­ful Of­fender Grants, visit www. do­leta. gov.

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