Charter school gives students boost in getting education
“I would probably be a high school dropout, pregnant, dead or something,” the 17-year-old said. “I was into gangs; I was just a very bad teenage child.”
Jessica grew up with her mom, stepfather and younger brother in what she describes as “a very, very bad trailer park,” but her mother always gave her everything she wanted, she said.
And one thing Jessica definitely did not want was to attend Parker High School.
“I think I went there a total of six to seven days, full days,” she said. “I’d go there and skip at lunch.”
Today, Jessica is well on her way to earning a high school equivalency degree. She hopes to graduate in fall and go to college to become a veterinarian.
“(The school) has helped me so much,” she said.
Students at Rock River Charter School have all kinds of reasons for being there. Many, for one reason or another, couldn’t handle life at a typical high school. Some are teen mothers who need flexible schedules to take care of their babies. Others dropped out of school to get jobs.
Whatever their circumstances, students find a variety of options at the charter school to ensure they earn their high school diplomas, giving them an important boost in the fight to escape or stay out of poverty.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time employees with high school diplomas earned an average of $604 a week in 2007, 41 percent more than the average weekly earnings of someone with no diploma.
The charter school is “a huge solution” in the fight against poverty, said Angela Lynch, social worker at the school.
“At least half of these students would have dropped out, easily,” she said.
About 130 students attend five different programs in the school building at 31 W. Milwaukee St., taught by 16 teachers and staff members. Some students end up returning to their home schools, while others graduate from one of the charter school programs.
The lower student/teacher ratio allows teachers to develop relationships with the students and tailor lessons to their individual needs, Lynch said. It’s also a lot easier to maintain control in a 130-student school, and behavior problems tend to be minimal, she said.
“It’s just a more respectful situation,” she said. “(Students) have told us that they feel like this is a home.”
Indeed, many students don’t have stable homes outside the school. More than a third of the students don’t live with their parents, and more than 40 percent receive free or reduced lunch—the school district’s measure of poverty.
Poverty was the reason Anna Rodriguez, 20, dropped out of Parker High School six years ago. Money was tight among her parents and two younger brothers when she was 14, she said.
“I dropped out because I just needed to help my parents out,” she said. “They didn’t tell me to drop out, but I really thought it would be better if I would start working to buy my own things and help them out.”
Today, Anna is working toward a high school equivalency diploma at the charter school. She goes to class three hours every weekday morning, giving her time her to take care of her 3-year-old son, Diego, and work a part-time job. Her husband and parents help where they can.
The charter school isn’t the answer for every student, Lynch said. Some students never graduate, but the majority do, she said.
Anna learned about the charter school through her older brother, who attended for a time but didn’t graduate. Anna hopes to graduate in September or October and go on to Blackhawk Technical College, she said.
She explains the paradox the charter school tries to solve:
“If you don’t work, you don’t have money, can’t help out. If you don’t have an education, you can’t get a good job.
“My kid will understand when I get older that I had to work and get my (diploma).”