The Storm Lake/Iowa Central/Buena Vista Early College Charter High School is in its fourth year now and the success of the program is even greater than anticipated.
Under the five year program in collaboration with ICCC, students can graduate with both a SLHS diploma and a college Associate of Arts degree (or a certification in one of several courses, or enough college credits to enter a four-year college as a junior.) There are 89 students involved this year, up from 59 last year, and many younger students are on the "Charter pathway" and preparing for their futures to attend the Charter School.
Retired SLHS Principal Mike Hanna, who with ICCC Director Dan Anderson, helped establish the charter school, described the program's direction.
"The ultimate goal is to enrich and enhance learning, accelerate progress, increase productivity, build a better-prepared and more diverse workforce and create a passion for lifelong learning and achievement that will enable many more students to discover and develop their full potential and lead to rewarding and fulfilling careers and lifestyles."
There are no fees charged to the students, many of whom might otherwise not be able to afford college.
Initially, the plan was to allow 50 students to participate. The Iowa Board of Education and the local board of education saw the unexpected interest and expanded to 75-100 students. A request has been made to increase that number to 200, and to include students who have completed high school credits.
"This program has gone beyond everyone's wildest imagination," said SLHS Principal Teresa Coenen. "It was very insightful of them (Hanna and Anderson) to jump on the band wagon. This is such a boon for our students. Other schools envy us for what we offer; we have so much available to our students."
SLHS offers 42 courses that are duo credited, meaning students completing the work received college and high school credit at no cost to them.
"We try to eliminate any barriers we can" to keep them on the right track," Coenen said.
This school year, the district hired a Charter School advisor to assist the students.
"Hopefully we can close the gaps to allow the students to be more successful by supporting them and pushing them because we know what they can achieve," Coenen said. She added that a "safety net" is still provided for those students who are having a difficult time adjusting to college life.
"The students feel a great connection to the school and that's good. They feel comfortable coming into the school and seeking out teachers that 'pushed them' and that's exciting."
The district is accountable to the state for numbers and results. She pointed out that of the 2008 high school graduates, one-third of them enrolled in the Charter School and of that number, half of them expressed interest in enrolling into a four-year college after completing the Charter School.
An annual report on the 2007-08 school year was prepared by Laurie Phelan, outside evaluator of the program.
The 59 students can be broken down into subgroups: 17 Caucasian, four Asian, 38 Hispanic. Fifty-two of the students are first generation to go to college.
The Charter School is open to any student of any color or any economic status, something that many people are still not clear on.
With state funds, a school bus was purchased, allowing students to travel, again, free of charge, to participate in technical classes being taught on the Fort Dodge campus of ICCC.
The bus leaves at 6:30 a.m.and returns in Storm Lake about 6 p.m.
Officials from SLHS, ICCC and BVU have made it a premise that classes offered would be rigourous. In a survey completed by Phelan, 20 percent of those students involved in the charter school say they are participating in the Charter school because of the challenge. Forty percent said they participate because of the opportunity to take college credit and the remaining 40 percent said they are participating because of the cost savings.
Program strengths Phelan points out are:
* 100 percent of the charter and non-charter students believe the charter is good for the students, families and the school district.
* The Charter Advisory Committee has a high degree of confidence in the leadership and administration at both Storm Lake District and ICCC expressed a very high level of satisfaction with the charter school.
* There is a a high level of support for the Charter School among students, high school and college faculty because of the opportunities it provides students that never saw college in their future.
* There is a high level of comfort regarding the safety of Charter School students on the college campus.
* The number of college credits earned has increased dramatically and the number of As and Bs earned has increased significantly. Last school year, 1,817 college credits were earned by charter Students; the previous year, 1,399 credits were earned.