Charter school pupils get sneak preview

Summer session a `must' for kids at Annapolis site

July 12, 2005|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

The almost-fifth-graders who walked out of the first day of the KIPP Harbor Academy's summer session were a little different from those who walked in.

They stood straighter. White shirts - once dangling down to the knees of some boys - had been tucked in. And they were closer to the ultimate goal: graduating as the Class of 2013.

But the KIPPsters are also the first pupils at one of Maryland's first public charter schools authorized under a 2003 law intended to create institutions that can be more flexible and responsive to student needs.

KIPP, which stands for Knowledge is Power Program, and a handful of others approved to open in the fall have the freedom to make their own decisions about areas such as curriculum or, in KIPP's case, an extended school day, week and year. Local school systems maintain some oversight, however. Charter school students must meet statewide progress goals, and their teachers remain school district employees.

One charter school, Monocacy Valley Montessori in Frederick, predates the law. Anne Arundel County has approved two schools for the fall, including KIPP, which hopes to serve more than 300 fifth- through eighth-graders in Annapolis. Baltimore's school board has signed contracts with four schools, and eight more are expected, including seven existing schools that will convert to charters.

"We're not moving at a rapid pace. We're just trudging along steadily," said Joni Berman, president of the Maryland Charter Schools Network, a group that advises charter organizers.

Yesterday, KIPP Principal B. Jallon Brown and several teachers and staffers led more than 70 children, mostly from Annapolis, through lessons to introduce them to the national charter school organization's mission of helping middle-schoolers from historically underserved communities prepare for college.

KIPP staffers had called families over the weekend to make sure they would be on time for the program's 8:30 a.m. start. Still, Director of Outreach Michele Mason had to retrieve two girls who had overslept.

Over breakfast, the children wrote letters listing their fears and questions about the new school. Posters around them showed KIPP mottos such as "All of us will learn."

They spent the rest of the day - the first in a three-week summer session - learning the importance of showing respect for speakers and following instructions, as well as receiving several homework assignments due today. Things remain to be done, including hiring a math teacher. And some parents need to be won over.

Latora Scott of Annapolis said she still had mixed feelings. Her two other children also woke up at 6:30 a.m. yesterday to get Scott's 10-year-old daughter, Daishaun Banks, ready for her 7:30 a.m. bus. Scott wasn't sure whether her daughter would get up even earlier in the fall, when classes begin at 7:25 a.m. And kids must commit to two hours of homework a night after leaving class at 5 p.m.

"I'm not digging these hours," Scott said. "At 10, she doesn't need that kind of stress."

Still, Daishaun said she enjoyed her first day and wanted to come back, although "I was very, very sleepy" yesterday morning.

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