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(from AfroWriter News)
Parents, teachers cheer opening of charter school
(BALTIMORE - September 8) - After more than two years of planning, fundraising, a tedious application process and lots of prayer, Northwood Appold Community Academy Public Charter School opened its doors to 126 kindergarteners and first- and second-graders on Aug. 29.
But for the Rev. Dr. Cecil Gray, pastor of Northwood Appold United Methodist Church and NACA chair, and parents, faculty and staff, the ribbon cutting that preceded the first day of school not only symbolized the beginning of a public charter school, but also the end of their frustration with the management of other public schools.
"The first day of school was an absolute success," said Gray. "The children were quite orderly, yet very excited. The parents understand that NACA is not just the school their children attend, but it's our school. It was an historic day."
NACA, one of 12 public charter schools debuting this year, is housed in a building leased by Northwood Appold that sits just across the street from the church. The building, constructed in 1958, saw its first renovations because of the NACA team, with help from Morgan State University and construction contractor Whiting-Turner.
Gray describes the building's two-month renovation as a "miracle" that brought the building up to code days before the historical ribbon cutting. In a show of faith in the Northwood community, Northwood Appold took out a $600,000 loan for the building's renovations and management. Although NACA is named after the church, NACA Inc., a separate entity, oversees the school’s operations.
Gray says he and the NACA team are blessed, and that what impedes the progress of other potential charters is the daunting task of finding a building for rent that is suitable to house large numbers of students.
However, the school still needs to secure approximately $4 million through a capital campaign by the end of August 2006 if it wants to pursue the K-8 model, Gray said.
"The biggest reason for enrolling my child in this school was the focus on the culture of our kids," said Jamila Ali, the mother of first-grader Nadia Ali Griffin. "The kids need to know who they are. Black history shouldn't only be taught in February."
Monique Latesha-Rigg, the mother of first-graders Ali Terrell Speight and Aliahya Monique Speight, said because both of her kids are only in the first grade, security was among the first criteria she looked for in deciding on an appropriate school for them.
"I feel that they will be very safe here," said Latesha-Rigg. "When they first come in the morning, students and parents have to sign them in, and the staff keeps count of the students. That means a lot to me."
"I like my school and I like my teacher," 5-year-old Manaya said bashfully. Malik Wilson, a second-grader, said he liked the strawberry-flavored milk served at lunch and was looking forward to the second day of school at Northwood Appold.
"I think there's a future in charter schools that could turn education around in our city," said 11th District Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. The councilman believes charter schools have a degree of independence other public schools are without, eliminating the boundaries between teachers and parents.
NACA has also made it mandatory that each parent or guardian commit to 90 hours of volunteer work each school year.
"When I was coming up, there were very few parents at PTA meetings," said Larry Saddler, 26, a second-grade teacher at Northwood Appold. "On the opening day here at Northwood, I had a class full of parents. I knew from that moment that I had the support and the respect of the parents."
Considering the current curriculum in most public schools, Saddler says he will always look for creative ways to convey lessons to students. Saddler said the first day of school was nearly perfect, and although they covered a lot of material, there was no sign of fatigue from students.
"We covered math, reading, writing and poetry," said Saddler. "Today showed me that these kids want to do well. I'm really proud of them."
"I could be having the worst day," said Saddler, "but I know [that] seeing their faces will always keep me motivated."
"I think the thing that stands out most about our school is [the] character development aspect," said Saddler. "When we come into the classroom, we talk about what it means to be a good person."
Virginia Richardson, NACA principal, was not only pleased with the conduct of her pupils on the first day, but also the support of their parents. Richardson maintains that the road to education is actually a "two-way street."
"This school is a village," said Richardson. "You cannot fully educate a child unless you have the full backing of parents."
One of the traits of public charter schools that makes them unique from ordinary public schools is that the community has substantial control over formatting the school's curriculum. Having such freedom, the NACA team decided to implement character building within its educational fabric.
"Most people go to school to make a living, but with NACA, we not only want the children to have a nice living," Gray said, "but we also want them to have the skills to make a life. We want them to be peaceful, loving people and engaged citizens.
"Our Freedom and Democracy Curriculum makes sure that our young people demonstrate academic excellence," said Gray. "But the curriculum also focuses on advanced character development. That's something that is lacking in most of our schools. Learning to be a good person is just as important as learning reading and math."
To donate, please send check or money order payable to NACA Inc., 4417 Loch Raven Blvd. (and East Cold Spring Lane), Baltimore, Md. 21218. For more information, please call 410-323-6712 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org