Officials at LEAP Academy University Charter School say the goal is to position students to finish college in three years and save tuition costs for families. The plan raises questions, however, about potential pitfalls for teenagers who might not be academically ready.
By state data, only 25 percent of the test takers at LEAP Academy last year met the benchmark SAT score of 480 out of 800 that reflects college readiness in reading and writing. Meanwhile, 11 percent met the benchmark score of 530 in math.
The charter’s founder, Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, said she believes the seniors can handle a full schedule of college work because many have done well in these classes before.
Most of the charter’s students are poor, and black or Hispanic. According to 2016 state data, 93 percent of its students graduated high school in four years.
Ms. Bonilla-Santiago said tackling college would be more motivating than a fourth year of high school. “Senior year is often a wasted year,” she said. “Most of the kids are bored to death.”
Many high schools nationwide offer “dual enrollment” in colleges to expose students to the campus vibe and inspire them to pursue higher education.
The so-called LEAP Early College plan, to start next fall with about 120 students, is unusual in that includes the entire senior class.
The students will study with professors on the Camden campuses of Rutgers University and Rowan University, but will take classes only with other LEAP students.
Evo Popoff, former chief-innovation officer at the New Jersey Department of Education, said many students in low-income communities lack rigorous instruction and would benefit from the higher expectations of college, but “at the same time, you don’t want to make it so far out of reach that they fail.”
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