The 30 Schools in 30 Days project will highlight a different New York State charter school each day, featuring each school's successes, and the challenges that come from being denied access to state facilities funding. Perhaps most important, each school leader has a message for state lawmakers in Albany: please find a solution to the facilities funding problem and allow ALL of the state's charter schools access to building aid this year.
Here are some staggering statistics regarding English Language Learners, or ELL students. Right now, NYSED’s Office of Information and Reporting Services reports that the Empire State’s ELL students graduate high school ready for college or career at a rate of only 5.9 percent .
And they are the fastest growing student population nationwide. In New York City – one of the largest school districts in the nation for ELL students – 14% of the students are ELL, according to data from SUNY Albany. High school completion rates for second-language learners are less than half of the general education population.
Congressman Joe Crowley visits CQA and meets with students
It was these alarming numbers that inspired Central Queens Academy Charter School (CQA) founder and Executive Director Suyin So to action when she opened the school in 2012. CQA currently serves 305 students in grades 5-7 and was designed with a focus on ELL students. It is one of the first of its kind in New York City and offers an explicit admission preference for ELL. What this means is that 30% of CQA’s seats are specifically set-aside for ELL students. This number exceeds the standard district number for ELL students.
Located in one of New York City’s most overcrowded school districts, District 24, and designed with support from a variety of community-based organizations, CQA aligns with a newer, community-rooted model of charter schools. CQA’s program has been met with high demand in District 24; it receives three applications for each seat.
So understood the need for ELL students to have more specialized learning because the students have challenges that other children don’t.
“Most of our families—between 70 to 80 percent-- are coming from non-English speaking families. Many speak Spanish, Chinese, Bengali, to name a few. And when they come to us, about 20% of our fifth graders are reading at a second or third grade level,” she said.
Because of these obvious challenges, the school uses intensive doses of literacy instruction to get their children up to speed. Additionally, teachers at CQA spend twice as much time on ELA instruction than the rest of the district.
As with most charters, students benefit from an extended day that starts at 8am and ends at 5pm. Children are offered a free extra hour from 5-6pm for help with homework.
“We have some of the most dedicated and hardest-working young scholars I have ever encountered in my 16 years working in New York City’s public schools,” said Ashish Kapadia, CQA’s School Director. “They are responsible, bright and inquisitive and generally arrive school wanting to learn.”
Congressman Joe Crowley with CQA students
In the April 2014 state exam testing, CQA students outperformed New York City, New York State and its host district for both grades 5 and 6. CQA was also recently honored as a Rising Star by the New York Blackboard Awards for Excellence in Education program.
But there are many challenges the school faces. CQA is currently paying rent to two private landlords in order to house its students. The school opened in the most overcrowded district in the city, so space to house a school of 300+ students is hard to come by.
Kapadia and So both say that CQA would like to grow the school to expand into high school in what would considered a common sense next step – but space in CQA’s district is at a premium. Like all charter schools in private space, the school has to pull money from the operating budget to pay for facilities.
“There are, frankly, many great things that we could do with that money if we did not have to use it on facilities” said So. “We would love to more literacy, a robust arts program and more tailored literacy instruction.”
While CQA has been fortunate to find generous donors, So says, diverting funds intended for student instruction to pay for housing the school impedes student progress.
“If we had facility aid and could free up additional budget, we could run more intensive programs - offer more tutoring and rigorous summer school programming. We could expand our counseling services – the kind of ratio you need for a successful middle school program. We could have a team of social workers, psychologists and counselors.”
Despite the challenges, Suyin says of her work, “There is nothing more rewarding.”
She continues, “We want to help children learn and we want to believe that there is a place for public education. We have optimism and believe that we can improve the lives of our students.”
“We are committed to helping our young scholars get ready for high school and college,” Kapadia adds. “With additional funding to support our facilities, our students would get not just the instruction they need, but the educational opportunities they deserve.”
Scholars and teachers from CQAtalk about what makes it unique
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