June 1, 2016
LEAP Academy University Charter School is adding a new dimension to its stellar record of making college accessible for inner-city high school students. It is helping their parents earn college degrees, too.
Click here to see photos of the event
On Wednesday, June 1, the school hosted a graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the LEAP Institute for Adult Learning. The Institute was developed through the joint work of LEAP and the Rutgers Camden Community Leadership Center and focuses on preparing adult learners to enter higher education as college students.
The partnership to support these parents will also include Rowan University through a special effort to support these parents as students at their institution. Twenty-five parents will be part of the ceremony.
Under the partnership with Rowan, some LEAP parents will be able to pursue their bachelor’s degree at Rowan’s Camden campus.
Moreover, the LEAP parents will have the option to pursue one of five majors at Rowan: sociology, human services, law and justice, construction management or disaster preparedness and emergency management.
The Rowan degree programs will not be tuition free, but it is expected that financial aid will cover most, if not all, of the expense. For our parents, it is a chance for them to reinvent themselves,” said Danielle Lopez, herself a LEAP parent and the coordinator of the LEAP Institute for Adult Learning. “Most of them had never been to college before – or started then stopped. Now they have another chance at getting their degree.”
For instance, Lopez said, there is enrollee Kellie Woods, who attended four different colleges but does not have a degree. The mother of two LEAP students is currently unemployed. Now, she will be a Rowan student.
“As parents, we tend to put ourselves last and put our children first,” Lopez said. “So this program allows parents to better themselves, too. To have access to the kind of college education that they may not have had when they were younger.”
LEAP Board Member, Dr. Horacio Sosa, was instrumental in arranging the partnership with Rowan. Dr. Sosa is Vice President for Global Learning and Partnership at Rowan.
The LEAP Institute for Adult Learning started its inaugural session in January. Sessions have dealt with building skills such as time management, how to handle stress and ways to study more effectively.
In addition, the Institute is helping parents navigate their financial aid options. “It can be intimidating and overwhelming when you have to do figure out financial aid on your own,” Lopez said. “Parents just need a helping hand. We are here to provide it.”
Says LEAP Founder and Board Chair, Dr. Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, the LEAP Parent’s Academy is a natural outgrowth of LEAP’s existing spirit of parental engagement.
“Strong families lead to stronger communities,” Dr. Santiago said. “If you empower families as stakeholders in the school, the entire community benefits.”
LEAP opened its first school in 1997, and has steadily expanded along a two block area of Cooper Street in Camden.
Many speak of the “Miracle on Cooper Street” to describe how LEAP has guided its surrounding neighborhood from blight to become a true educational corridor – with five gleaming buildings for learning.
The school’s successes include 11 consecutive years of 100 percent graduation and college placement.
LEAP draws from the same all-minority, low-income student population as Camden’s beleaguered public school system but has nearly double the rate of college placement and graduation.
The formula for LEAP Academy includes a longer school day and school year. It also involves offering merit pay (vs. tenure pay) for teachers. And it features getting parents engaged – moms and dads sign a Parent Partnership Agreement that requires them to support their children education, help with homework, volunteer at least 40 hours a year with school projects. Current enrollment is over 1,500 students in grades from Kindergarten to 12th grade.
“A college degree is a key to someone from a low-income background to break the cycle of poverty,” says Dr. Santiago. “You might be able to get a job without a degree, but having professional training opens a lot of doors for someone who wants to build a career and get a job in the service industry. Parents are asking for a way to help earn academic training to support them with the service industry jobs that will become available with the many opportunities coming to Camden and we are proud that the Parent Institute is preparing them achieve that goal.”