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.
Urban Dove Team Charter School (UD Team) defies the misconception that charter schools don’t take students who are difficult to educate. In fact, those are the students who Urban Dave welcomes with open arms.
The school, founded in 2012, is a transfer, alternative high school that serves over-aged, under-credited students. It’s fair to say all of their students are high-needs. Nearly forty percent of the students are special education students; that’s nearly triple the district average, according to the school.
UD Team is a three-year high school but doesn’t follow a traditional 9-12 model. UD team meets students where they are and works to get them back on track with the number of credits they need to graduate. The school currently serves 260 students.
Founder Jai Nanda ran an after-school non-profit – Urban Dove - for at-risk youth for over a decade before starting UD Team.
“There is no other school, public charter or otherwise, that exclusively serves our population in New York City,” he said. “Using all that we learned in the after-school program, our goal here is to catch kids at the beginning of their off-track process and get them back on track before it’s too late.”
Nanda said thousands of kids who are off-track leave the system and drop out – very often, for good. He and his team want to do something about this incredibly pervasive problem in the educational system.
“We know that at the end of 9th grade if students don’t have at least 11 credits, they drop out at a rate of 85%. That’s staggering.”
There’s also something unique about the school model. Urban Dove uses teams and a sports-based youth development model in which every student is placed on a single-gender team with a full-time coach. The idea is to build teams, leadership, morale, and provide a support network for each student.
“The students spend two hours every day in physical activity with their teams. They go to class as a team. They are with their team throughout the year. They’re always seeing their coach,” Nanda said.
This model caught the attention of CBS Sunday Morning in 2013 and the school was featured in a long-form story that you can watch here.
Like many charter schools, students here have a longer day, from 9-5. There’s also a Saturday program and summer school is offered.
So far, Nanda said the results show that this hard work is paying off.
“It’s been very encouraging. We have our first class of graduating seniors coming up in June. We’ll have about a 35-40% graduation rate for our first cohort, over double the city-wide average. In the first 2 ½ years, we’ve found something that is working for these students.”
But there are huge challenges that come with housing the school in private space. Nanda said that co-located space just would not work for this school.
“The cost of this building is an extreme challenge for us and one we have managed so far, but it is a daily burden. The space is physically not in the best of shape. We have spent a great deal of time on things like fixing leaks, calling landlords, fixing the heat. All of these things have nothing to do with educating students.
“Our students require a tremendous amount of time and money and it’s a double whammy for us.”
Nanda continued, “Without investing in this piece, the building, we are shortchanging our entire model. We also want to build an internship program. We would love to pay our staff more and attract more talented teachers. We require high quality staff with additional expertise.”
Nanda’s message to lawmakers is: “There are charter schools that are really working hard to serve kids who are not being served by the system and we inhibit their ability to do that when we don’t provide money for something as fundamental as facility. A facility is not a luxury; it’s a basic necessity. Being in New York City, costs are extremely challenging and there should be some relief. We shouldn’t be penalized for making the decision to serve our students. We are asking for fairness.”
Urban Dove's Jai Nanda joins Amber Charter School's Vasthi Acosta and NECSN's Kyle Rosenkrans on NY1's Inside City Hall to discuss the future of charter schools
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