Six pioneering seniors will don a cap and gown to be the Hoboken Charter School's first high school graduates. The school opened in September of 1998 and offers pre-K through high school classes.
In New Jersey alone there are a total of 71 approved charter schools in 16 counties. In the 2000-01 school year, 54 charter schools served over 10,000 students. Thirteen more charter schools are scheduled to open in the state in September of 2001, with four more schools taking a preliminary planning year for 2001-02.
The appeal of charter schools to many is that, in exchange for being held accountable for the students' performance, the schools sign a charter with the state that frees them from many regulations of public schools.
Under current law, parents and educators seeking more control over their children's education are allowed to form a charter school with public money. Children compete for a seat in the school through a lottery and pay no tuition. Administrators are free of control from the teachers' unions and the schools do not have to adhere to the jurisdiction of a particular city's Board of Education, although the board funnels state aid to the schools. Charter schools also create their own curriculum and have their own board of trustees.
Those in favor of these schools believe that by competing with public schools, the overall standard of education improves. Another stated benefit is that charter schools give teachers the freedom to be innovative.
Believers also say that while they are publicly funded, they are governed by parents and teachers, not bureaucrats.
Those who oppose charter schools argue that they draw on the same scarce resources as traditional public schools and that they create animosity in the community where they operate because they are perceived as being elitist. Critics charge that the charter schools do not solve real educational problems, but only provide an escape for the fortunate few.
The seniors' viewpoint
Last Thursday, the seniors at Hoboken Charter School gave their impressions on what it means to be the school's first graduates, as well as why they believe a charter school education is beneficial.
The students say they have received an innovative education they may not have been able to receive at other area public or private schools.
"This school has been so much different than other schools that I have gone to," said Danielle Caple. "Other schools you have big classrooms with rows of desks and you are mostly just lectured to. Here the classes are smaller and there is a lot more discussion and teamwork. You don't really have any choice other than to get involved in what the class is doing."
When asked if how fact that their class only had six people in it affected their educational experience, they agreed that being a small group let them form bonds that they might not have had in a larger class.
"We've all gone through our three years here together," said Caple. "Everything we do here, we experience it as a team, and the fact that we are such a small group only means that we had the opportunity to get that much closer. Even after we graduate I have the feeling that we are all going to be keeping in touch."
In addition to fulfilling traditional academic requirements, the Hoboken Charter School also requires a certain amount of proactive student involvement in the community through a program called "Service Learning," which is an experimental teaching method that provides students the opportunity to apply academic and nonacademic skills to real life situations.
"We are expected, actually we are required, to go out and be an active part of the community," said senior Scott Rabinowitz. "In order to graduate, we have to get an internship our junior and senior years. They taught us real life skills like how to write a resume and what to say in an interview."
In addition to internships, students are expected to participate in community service, such as helping to get people out to vote and feeding the homeless.
Another requirement for graduation is that students must create a portfolio of all of their best work while they are in high school. Then they present the portfolio to a review board.
"The portfolio really makes it so that you are not able to slack off," said senior Ed Harbison. "You have to do your best work the whole time here and the portfolio is a reminder of everything that we have done."
Mostly, the seniors are excited about their prospects after graduation and feel it is an added bonus to be the first graduating class of the school.
"It's been exciting because we have gotten to set the standard for future classes," said senior Farah Arece. "It's been like we've been seniors for three years. Everything that happens, we get to experience first and what we do while we are here will have an impact on how it is done in the future. That makes it special."
The graduation ceremony for the Hoboken Charter School will be held June 25 at Frank Sinatra Park.