by David Safier
I try to be an honest broker. So though I have problems with lots of charter schools, the way they've proliferated and the unwarranted hype about their overall success, when I see a good charter school story, I'll report it. In this case, I have two.
The first story is about K12 Inc.'s Arizona online school, Arizona Virtual Academy (AZVA). Readers of BfA know I've heaped many, many words of scorn on this operation, but now it's time for a small dose of praise. AZVA has partnered with One-n-Ten, a non-profit that works with gay and lesbian students, to form Q High, short for Queer High. Students whose sexual orientation makes them the target of scorn and bullying at their local high schools can go to classes at One-n-Ten's Phoenix headquarters working in partnership with AZVA, which furnishes much of the education and issues the diploma. It's a small program, but it's one of a few of its kind in the country.
One-n-Ten’s headquarters has been converted into a high school with bell schedules, study periods, lunch breaks and group activities to provide structure the students would not get taking online courses.
They take classes together in the computer lab under the supervision of a Virtual Academy teaching aide who answers questions about coursework.
The Virtual Academy offers free tuition, academic counselors, textbooks, bus passes and supplies to the students. One-n-Ten supplements the school program with tutors, counseling, medical care, meals and extracurricular activities such as field trips and yoga.
The online-charter school has worked with at-risk youths at YMCA centers, but Q High is its first partnership with a non-profit serving gay youths, said Megan Henry, head of the Virtual Academy.
Congrats to AZVA for helping to create this partnership.
The second story is about Star Charter School, close to the Navajo reservation about 30 miles from Flagstaff. It uses only renewable energy, a first for any school in the country.
Five wind turbines and 100 solar panels supply the school's electricity.
When it opened in 2001 in a former junkyard with no access to public power, and in a community with high unemployment and high drop-out rates, it set out to become a model for small community schools.
Instead of searching for a way to pay for power lines and a water system, the founders drew on their Navajo heritage to create an almost entirely self-sustaining campus. Thus the name STAR (Service to All Relations) and its emphasis on Navajo traditions of community: self-reliance and caring for the environment through green building and clean energy.
37 kilowatts of solar and wind power the school, including its state-of-the-art media lab and an electric well system that waters the orchards and garden, which are cultivated using Navajo practices.
As you might imagine, solar technology is a big part of the curriculum. Students study real-time energy use of computers and lights, evaporative cooling systems and refrigerators.
This video about the school's energy independence was produced by the school's 7th and 8th grade students.
What makes these two projects special is that they use unique qualities the schools can bring to the table. Virtual schools offer a portability that allows a non-profit that's not equipped to run a school on its own to get a school up and running. And a charter with a distinct vision was able to devote itself to achieving complete energy independence through its own efforts without having to jump over district hurdles. If there were more stories like these, I would be far more positive about the value and importance of charter schools.