Alternative Schooling In Cabarrus County: What Are Your options?
Aug 11, 2014 02:20PM
By Jason Huddle
These days, a parent is given more choices than ever when it comes to their child’s academics. Public schools aren’t the only option. And while private schools have a history in Cabarrus County, charter schools and home schools are becoming huge trends.
In 2011, North Carolina lifted the 15-year-old 100-school cap that limited the number of N.C. charter schools. Prior to that, a new charter was chosen only when an unsuccessful school closed.
Public charter schools are similar to public schools in that they are tuition-free. The North Carolina Charter Schools Advisory Board, located within the Department of Public Instruction, reports to the State Board of Education; the Board of Education approves charters.
Eleven new charters were approved for the upcoming school year for Cabarrus and Mecklenburg counties, but Cabarrus Magazine hesitates to list them because it has come to our attention that at least one will not be opening after all. Parents are urged to do their homework with regards to opportunities for the 2015-’16 academic year. Visit www.ncpublicschools.org/charterschools for more information.
While just about anyone who sees a need – parents, teachers and area leaders – can propose a charter school to the Advisory Board, “Charter schools are accountable for academic results and for upholding the promises made in their charters. They must demonstrate performance in the areas of academic achievement, financial management and organizational stability. If a charter school does not meet performance goals, it may be closed,” uncommonschools.org says.
These schools receive county, state and federal funds as well as grants to help with the cost of start-up. However, like public schools, they are also bound by state law to follow Common Core standards…or whatever academic standards are being utilized at the time.
A difference between public and charter schools is that charter schools accept students by way of a lottery. Once it’s determined how many students they have room for at each grade level, numbers are drawn to fill those vacancies, with more to be chosen and put on a waiting list. Once a child gets through the lottery process and becomes a student at that charter school, his or her future siblings are automatically accepted and can bypass the lottery process.
Kevin Senter is the principal at Cabarrus Charter Academy in Concord, which opened in the fall of 2013. He sees various reasons why parents decide on a charter school.
“In order for students to become critical thinkers and develop a lifelong love of learning, they must be challenged to achieve more than ever before,” he says. “Principals and teachers are given more freedom to do whatever is necessary to help students succeed. That may mean specialized programs during the school day to provide intervention, remediation and enrichment, after-school tutoring, longer school days or Saturday school. Each school has its own unique challenges that can be met more easily than those schools that have to maintain the status quo.”
Even though charter schools do receive some funding, it’s still important that parents step up and volunteer their time, whether it be in the classroom, on fieldtrips or on a fundraising board. “Parents are encouraged to volunteer at least 20 hours per year at Cabarrus Charter Academy. Studies have proven that students perform better in school when parents are actively involved in their education,” Senter adds.
“We teach the State and/or Common Core standards through our Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum (GVC). Each school uses approved textbooks and literary resources to ensure students master the standards. The CSUSA Educational Model is based on the research of Robert J. Marzano’s What Works in Schools. The GVC is aligned to specific state standards and grade-level expectations,” Senter explains.
Student electives include visual and musical arts as well as world languages. The Arts encompass music, visual arts, theatre and dance.
Something new coming to Cabarrus Charter this fall for middle-schoolers…”We have won approval to launch the Cambridge/AICE advanced curriculum and accelerated study method,” Senter says. “Developed by the University of Cambridge in England, (it) serves more than 8 million students a year in 160 countries. The Cambridge curriculum aims to encourage the skills of independent research and investigation, the use of initiative and creativity, and the application of skills and knowledge. Many colleges and universities are awarding students advanced standing and academic credit for Cambridge AICE examinations passed.
Private – or independent – schools do not receive local, state or federal funding. Instead, they operate by way of student tuition and private funds. cfa Academy – formerly First Assembly Christian School – opened in 1976, experiencing ongoing positive growth while fulfilling the vision of founding Pastor Tom Whidden. That vision includes providing all-day care on campus, from day care for the young, to before- and after-school day care for students.
Today, cfa Academy enrolls about 725 k-12 students with a teacher/student ratio of 1:18. ”cfa Academy seeks to provide a school where students are provided educational excellence in a Christian environment,” Cindy Corl, director of cfa’s print media, says. “Biblical integration at every level, in every class and course, coupled with academic rigor, provide the foundation for learning. Upon that foundation students are granted the opportunity to explore fine art and athletic opportunities at a level of excellence and significant exposure.
“Private schools are able to provide smaller class sizes, which equal more opportunities for individual student involvement in the classroom as well as in extracurricular activities like athletics and fine arts. A smaller, cross-age group community provides unique student and faculty relationships. The cfa Academy community is able to benefit from intentional mentor groups, small learning centers and labs, and instruction designed to meet the individual needs of the individual student.”
Families that might have financial constraints but still want to take advantage of a private school education may apply for financial assistance through cfa Academy and through North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship.
Making the decision to homeschool your child typically involves frustration with some aspect of the child’s current school, wanting to teach a faith-based curriculum or to address a social or educational need. Regardless of the reason, the numbers of homeschooled children in North Carolina continue to grow.
During the 2012-’13 school year, there were 1,666,588 children aged five to 17 in North Carolina. Of those, it’s estimated by atozhomeschooling.com that 87,978 were homeschooled.
There are some parameters to follow if homeschooling in North Carolina. The state does not require children be registered as a homeschooler until they reach seven years of age. At that point, the parent must send a Notice of Intent to the North Carolina Division of Non-public Education (DNPE), as well as when homeschooling ends. Additionally, school must operate on a schedule for a minimum of nine months of the year. Immunization and attendance records and annual standardized testing also apply.
Cabarrus Magazine spoke with a Cabarrus County mom about her and her husband’s experiences homeschooling their child. One thing that is for certain, homeschooling isn’t what many of the stereotypes portray it to be.
This mom homeschools one of her sons while her other son attends public school in Cabarrus County. “We made the decision to homeschool when our youngest son was struggling through his third grade year,” she says. “He was benefiting from several resources within the school; however, we noticed his personality was changing quite a bit. He was becoming more self-conscious and withdrawn. This was different from the outgoing, bubbly child he had been. At that time we felt we could better customize his academics to better meet his needs.”
Since her son enjoys hands-on work and the computer, this mom conducts ongoing research of different curriculum. “Handwriting is an issue for him; I have been able to find a computer-based math program that he can type his answers in and get automatic feedback. This has prevented his handwriting from being a hindrance in his progression of math. We are then able to do other activities to work on his handwriting,” she says.
She has seen great strides in her son, not just academically, but socially. At this point in time he has no desire to go back to a public school, a question he’s asked after each school year. “When he is asked why, he always say that homeschooling is so much better for him and that he really likes being able to do things at his own pace,” his mom explains.
She attributes his improvement scholastically to customization. “Every child is different and is able to absorb information in different ways,” she says. “Through homeschooling you can not only recognize that, but celebrate it. If they are struggling with a concept, then you can slow down and take a few extra days to make sure they really get it. At the same time, if they catch on really fast, then you can fly through that section and move on. If they are able to perform math on an 8th grade level, but need to work on grammar on a 6th grade level, it is totally fine. You are truly customizing their school experience to best meet their needs.”
She credits his social awakening and confidence to both “getting” the work and to the number of support groups, co-ops and clubs geared toward homeschoolers. For this child, those include Chess Club, Cup Stacking Club and 4-H groups. Other resources for parents include www.cabarrus.k12.nc.us/homereach, www.enrichnc.org, www. cchsa.com and www.njoyscience.net.
“After homeschooling our first five months, I asked my 3rd grade son what he missed most about school. His answer was ‘parties.’ The next year I made sure we had holiday parties,” his mom says. “We would meet up at the park or friends’ houses and do all the fun stuff they would do in school. He truly does not lack for any of the school experiences that most people think of. If anything, he gets to experience so much more.
“We take this adventure on a year-to-year basis,” she continues. “If the time ever comes that I cannot meet his needs academically and physically, then it is something we will have to consider. I have to say, knowing all the resources available to me as a parent and to my son, I do not know if that day will come.”
Choosing the most appropriate educational path for your child has a lifelong impact, but doesn’t need to be decided alone. Contact the varieties of schools in Cabarrus County...they’ll be glad to help.