GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - A new plan would convert a Grand Rapids Public Schools elementary building into a charter school specializing in high school dropouts and homeless students.
Grand Valley State University is chartering the academy and GRPS is cooperating to identify the at-risk students who could attend the new program. It will be run by Covenent House Academies, which already operates three similar charter schools in Detroit.
Covenant House bought Campau Park Elementary School, just off Division Avenue near Franklin Street, which is closing this year. Once elementary students are out of the building in June, it will be remodeled.
"I think that it will help the neighborhood," Tracy Lucas, who lives nearby, said.
Lucas has volunteered and worked at the elementary school, and says there are young people just not suited to be in regular schools.
"But maybe if it was more flexible there would be a different outcome," she said.
Pupils at the new charter school will range in age from 16 to 22, though students typically age out of GRPS at 20. There are also some 1,100 homeless young people in the district and Covenant House will specialize in reaching them.
"We will look at each individual student and give them an option. Give them an opportunity to go and we'll encourage those that will be better suited to go to Covenant House. We'll definitely encourage them to go. I see this as just a satellite of Grand Rapids Public Schools," said GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal.
Covenant House also has a spiritual base.
"Ours is a spiritual mission I'll be very up front about it. Very, very spiritual mission. They're God's children. They're my children. They're not being educated. We need to find a way to educate them. That's the bottom line for me. And we believe when children are loved, they are going to stick with you," said Sam Joseph, who runs Covenant House.
GRPS already has its own alternative schools for dropouts, but Covenant House Charter Academy has more flexibility to handle young people who are the most difficult to teach.
"They're able to move freely based on what their needs are, so I love the flexibility," Neal said.
Covenant House says it teaches students based on their knowledge level -- no matter what was the last grade they finished. It builds the education program around the students. Neal says traditional schools -- even Grand Rapids' own alternatives -- find that difficult to do.
"If I thought that we could have done it better, I would have done it. I believe in my heart that this is best for children," she said.
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