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N.J. Charter School Helps Parents Go To College to Improve Their Involvement

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A New Jersey charter school already boasts that all of its graduates go to college. Now, the parents are asking for the same thing—and the charter school is trying to help.

"All of a sudden, a massive number of parents were saying, 'Wait a minute, we could go to college,'" said Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, the founder of LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden, N.J.

LEAP Academy, which has four campuses, is preparing 30 of its parents to attend college starting in the fall through an effort with Rowan University, where night classes will be offered. Earlier this year, the academy hosted its first LEAP Institute for Adult Learning to prepare parents to go to college with lessons, including financial aid and study habits. The first graduation ceremony was earlier this month. Read more about the institute and its graduation ceremony.

The idea is that parents who have a better education themselves will better be able to be involved in their children's education.

"A parent can't help children study for exams or do homework if the parent doesn't know how to help them," Bonilla-Santiago told Education Week.

The new effort to help parents go to college builds on the academy's already wide-ranging parent-engagement program, which has included GED, literacy and English as a Second Language classes. The academy also makes an effort to hire parents in jobs, such as cafeteria or maintenance workers.

But some parents said they wanted even more education. Earlier this year, the academy began the institute with Title I funds, federal money designated for low-income children, Bonilla-Santiago said. Some of that money can be designated for parent involvement.

The parents don't receive direct tuition assistance through the program, but most qualify for financial aid that is expected to cover their costs.

Some of the parents had already started college, but they were unable to continue. One mother, for example, has attended four different colleges, but has yet to complete her degree, according to the academy. At least one other mother is going to start in college at the same time as her daughter, Bonilla-Santiago said. 

LEAP Academy, which became a charter school in 1997, claims that its students have had a 100 percent graduation and college acceptance rate for more than a decade.

Now, academy officials hope parents might join that statistic.

See a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the institute's graduation ceremony.

Contact Sarah Tully at [email protected].

Follow @ParentAndPublic for the latest news on schools and parental involvement.

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