Founded in 1997, LEAP Academy began by serving 324 students in grades K-5 and has since grown using a grade phase-in model. In 2001, the School added a high school program, and in 2009, its charter was amended to incorporate an additional high school program with a narrower focus on STEM and approval to increase enrollment in its high school by 240 students. The School currently serves 1,500 students across the K-12 grade spectrum.
LEAP Academy was one of the first thirteen charter schools that opened in New Jersey in 1997 and the first charter school in Camden City. It is one of the few charter schools in New Jersey offering a comprehensive K-12 program. The School was housed in temporary modular classroom units in 1997. Since then, it has acquired five buildings along Cooper Street. The presence of LEAP Academy has added a vibrant K-12 presence to Camden’s “Education Corridor,” which also features campuses for Rutgers University, Rowan University, Camden County College, and the Rutgers Early Learning Research Academy (ELRA). The location of LEAP Academy alongside three institutions of higher education allows for Camden children to start their education in infancy with ELRA, proceed to the LEAP Academy and transition to higher education all along Cooper Street.
Under the leadership of Dr. Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, a Rutgers Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor, Rutgers University has played a leading role in developing and sustaining the School from its planning phase. The university has remained the School’s main supporter and partner and has established a variety of Centers of Excellence to support the School’s work and provide LEAP students with opportunities for dual high school/college enrollment. Rutgers’ support is channeled through the Community Leadership Center, which also sponsors a full service pre-school program and a program for infants and toddlers through its Early Learning Research Academy.
From its inception, LEAP has encouraged strong parental engagement. A high level of parent participation is sustained by a number of school-based structures, such as the Parents Academy and the School Based Health Center. Parents are fundamental to the governance of the School, and the parental voice is represented by the five parents that serve on the School’s Board.
The LEAP model is built on the premise that a school can enhance the education and future career opportunities for urban minority children and families through the collaborative design, implementation, and integration of education, health, human services, professional development, and community development. The School has a dual focus on closing the achievement gap and ensuring college preparation and completion among African American and Latino students who are poor and mostly first-generation college students.