Charter Schools

Charter Schools

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by Kim Fields

Bio | Email | Follow: @KimFieldsKTVB

KTVB.COM

Posted on January 30, 2012 at 12:28 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 5:07 AM

Charter schools
Charter schools in Idaho:
44
Total enrollment:
10,000
Pros:
Close contact with teachers, unique teaching methods
Cons:
Limited space

BOISE -- There has been a 23 percent increase in enrollment in charter schools since 2008.

Charter schools are funded by the state with tax payer money.  They do not cost the student anything.  There are currently about 10,000 students enrolled in Idaho's charter schools.  That is about 4 percent of Idaho students.  Another 10,000 students are on waiting lists across the state.

So what are these students waiting for?  KTVB's Kim Fields went inside two of these charter schools to find out what sets them apart.

At Anser Charter School in Garden City, each class begins with what they call a crew meeting.   In the meeting, the teacher addresses day-to-day business.  It is where the class talks as a team.

"That is one of my favorite parts about the day because I get to interact with my classmates and I get to talk with them and hear about their weekend," said Sabine Englert, Anser Charter School 5th grader.

It is that kind of close interaction that Sabine's mother wanted for her children, which is one of the reasons she sought out Anser.

"We were looking for something that offered a little bit more closer contact with teachers and I love what Anser does with community service," said Sabine's mother, Sarah.

Sarah Englert tried for two years to get her two daughters into Anser.  There are typically around 400 names each year on the school's waiting list.

For Anser's kindergarten class, there are about 150 applicants for 32 spots.

One of the biggest myths about charter schools is that they get to pick and choose their students or that students have to pass a certain test of application process to get in.  The reality is, charter schools are free public schools and they are open to all students.

By law, all 44 charter schools in Idaho abide by the same enrollment process.  Those processes are based on a lottery system.  Names are randomly chosen.

One major difference about charter schools is that each one has the flexibility to write their own charter.  That gives them the flexibility to determine their school's mission, philosophy and culture, and style of learning.  You'll find different teaching methods at each charter school.

"I think one of the reasons why Anser works so well is it's a philosophy that's really generated year to year.  It's embraced by the teachers.  It's embraced by the community.  So the parents are just as much of the community as anybody," said Sarah Englert.

Anser's teaching method is based on expeditionary learning.  That means they learn through adventure, community service, and extensive studies.

"We will take one topic and go very, very deep, believing that depth leads to breadth.  Rather than digging a lot of shallow holes, we'll dig one large deep hole and watch it branch out from there," said Diane Williams, who is a teacher at Anser Charter School.

Williams says their goal is to educate children in a collaborative environment.   Character-building helps students to feel a responsibility to the world.  They become engaged learners and critical thinkers.

"I really like that in all my classes my teachers give you really hard questions," explained Josie Englert, a 7th grader at Anser.  "After each question you're asked to reflect on how you got your answer to each question."

"Not just doing something simple and then you're done with it.  You really go underneath the surface," agreed Sabine.

"It's much more integrated.  It's much more thoughtful.  It's not just facts and filling in worksheets and then sending it back," said their mother.

Anser's method of teaching fits perfectly with the way Sarah's daughters learn, but she had to do her homework to find that perfect match. 

"We knew people who were here and so we talked a lot to them before we came over.  We also came and visited.  I had the girls both spend a half day here to see what they thought," she explained.  "And then my husband and I came to an open house and talked extensively with parents and other people who were already here."

Giving parents a choice, an option to different methods of educating, was the whole idea behind the inception of charter schools.

"It really comes down to choice.  When parents are able to choose what model of education fits their child best, we see results.  We see success," said Gayann Demordaunt, Idaho Public Charter Schools Commission.

Demordaunt says there are many choices for parents when it comes to charter schools.  Some are centered on science and math, others on art and dance or professional-technical.  It's about finding what is best for your child.

Janae Everton's research led her to choose Liberty Charter School in Nampa.

"I knew there had to be something out there that would challenge my kids, not just academically, but to help them become a better just kids in general," said Everton.  "When I researched it online, I called and said, 'Can I come by and take a look.'  As I went to each room, I, as a parent, was so excited and I knew that my kids would be excited to have those opportunities."

It took a few years for Janae's four children to get in.  More than 3,000 students are on the waiting list at Liberty Charter School.  She says parents should be patient and not give up.

"It isn't who I knew, it was staying focused on what I wanted," said Everton.

Everton particularly liked that Liberty's teaching method is based on the Harbor Method.  It creates a safe environment for students to learn, while building character.

"They start from the very beginning teaching them to be good kids, teaching them to be kind, teaching them that you just can't excel in academics, you have to be a good person.  And I love that because that just reinforces what we try to teach them at home," said Everton,

The idea is a safe environment frees up a student to learn.  The goal: To eliminate distractions and bullying.  Students are given direct instruction involving repetitive, continuous learning. 

"The students aren't just sitting at their desks doing paperwork, like we did, underlining the subject, double underlining the predicate, and all that.  It's having them actually doing.  And getting the verbal out as well as all the other ways they can express themselves as their learning materials," said Gayle O'Donahue, Community Relations for Liberty Charter School.

It's been a good fit for Janae's family, an opportunity, she says she is glad she looked into and was available.

"I love that there is a choice in education because I'm a true believer because, you know what, not all my kids learn the same way.  So I'm grateful for the opportunity that I had a choice." said Everton.

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