(Photo Credit: Thinkstock)

(Photo Credit: Thinkstock)

This article is presented in partnership with CA Lottery.

For kids attending Aspire Public Schools, gearing up for college has taken on a new, powerful meaning.

A charter school system operating throughout the state of California in underserved neighborhoods, Aspire kids don’t wait until graduation to start earning college credits. Through Aspire’s dual enrollment program, most graduate with a solid semester’s worth of 15 credits under their belts; saving their families over $6,000 in tuition costs and enabling them to graduate sooner.

 

A Rigorous Approach

Operating in 35 schools throughout 10 California cities free-of-charge, Aspire’s College For Certain approach has catapulted every graduating senior into college during the last four years. Serving underprivileged kids in some of California’s lowest-income neighborhoods, the non-sectarian public charter school system has no admission requirements.

Aspire propels students to aggressively pursue their studies and pass five college courses in order to graduate high school. The courses are provided tuition-free at a variety of two and four-year colleges, including Alliant International University, Berkeley City College, Canada College, Laney College, Kirkwood College, Tiffin University (Ivy Bridge), San Joaquin Delta College and UC Berkeley.

Based on an ideology of rigorous, personalized study and high expectations, educators within the program employ multiple strategies for student success. These strategies include specific and clear expectations across three areas: life skills, thinking skills and basic skills, while utilizing apprenticeship, project-based instruction and Blended Learning as key teaching tools.

Each student receives a personal learning plan specific to their goals and abilities within a small, community-centric school model. Small class sizes and daily meetings with an adult advisor are both key elements to success, ultimately ensuring that no student ever feels anonymous.

Special education students are given the same level of rigorous support as the rest of the student body. Utilizing individual instruction and goal-specific teaching, students classified with mild/moderate and moderate/severe learning disabilities are provided a rich education as well. Next steps for these students are focused on continued learning, career training and independent living.

 

Taking Extra Time To Achieve Extra Goals

In order to get the job done, Aspire’s school days are 15 percent longer than the average public school day and their terms are longer as well. For instance, Aspire schools operate 10 more days each semester over the traditional school calendar.

Teacher training is also paramount.

Educators participate in a 10,000 hour induction program overseen by instructional coaches buoyed with strong team supports and a problem-solving, group approach. Teachers are required to refine their craft and teach students at the same level of rigor and purpose that students are required to maintain.

School locations include Aspire California College Preparatory Academy in Berkeley for grades 9-12, Aspire Titan Academy in Huntington Park for grades K-5, Aspire Tate Academy in Los Angeles for grades K-6 and Aspire East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy in East Palo Alto for grades 7-12.

 

Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.

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