Fox5 – Baltimore – When it comes to Charter Schools, Baltimore City has the most in Maryland with about three-dozen. But nationally, California and Florida are leading the way. Florida has nearly 700. And many of them are trying new ideas to engage and educate young people.
Project Baltimore recently traveled to Miami and toured the City of Hialeah Educational Academy, which has established a national reputation for success. We wanted to know what makes it different.
When you walk into the school, part of what makes it different is obvious. You can’t miss it. When any adult walks into a classroom, the students stand and say hello.
“It’s about respect and honor,” said Principal Carlos Alvarez. “It’s the little things, we teach the boys to open doors for girls, you don’t see that much anymore.”
At Hialeah, national accolades hang in the cafeteria like banners in a sports arena. And things like honor and respect are not just encouraged – they’re expected.
“They are held accountable because we do know that if a student does not want to benefit from the programs that we have here, there’s 500 on the other side of the door waiting to get in that might want to take an opportunity,” Alvarez told Project Baltimore.
Alvarez knows well what lies beyond those doors. He knows the poverty that 90 percent of his students live in. He knows, because he too grew up here.
Stated Alvarez, “I see these kids and I see myself growing up in the same community. I see myself and every opportunity that I wasn’t given.”
Alvarez also knows where many of these kids are going. He, like most of them, was the first in his family to graduate college.
“I tell them if you want a better quality of life, it begins and it’s gonna end with an education.”
It was with that goal in mind – to prepare local young people for careers – that this school came to be.
“When I became mayor of the City of Hialeah one of the things that I knew from the get go if I wanted to decrease crime, if I want to increase economic development, if I wanted safer parks, safer streets, we needed to have better schools,” said former Mayor of Hialeah Julio Robaina.
To create better schools, Robaina had an idea – use existing city resources and create a partnership. A city park with courts and ball fields supplied the land, which the public charter school leases from the city. Inside the building, students learn CPR from actual Hialeah paramedic. And, criminal justice is taught by Hialeah Police Officers.
“There’s no doubt when you bring the government closer to the people, and the firefighters, the first responders, the police officers, there’s a tremendous more amount of a civic respect for the process,” added Robaina.
The Hialeah experiment began in 2008 – with Alvarez as the lead. So how did it work?
Project Baltimore compared the City of Hialeah Educational Academy to the two closest public high schools. We looked at proficiency in seven subjects for this past school year and found when it comes to test scores, this school does not stand out. But when it comes to students graduating, 10 years ago, Robaina says city schools had a graduation rate of 60 percent. This year at Hialeah, it was 97.5 percent.
And of this year’s 108 graduating students, the principal told Fox45 all 108 were accepted to college, from Ivy League universities on down.
Another thing that makes Hialeah different is students are required to apply to college in order to graduate.
“It’s not whether you’re going to college, it’s which college you’re going to,” said Alvarez. “It’s about positioning themselves for a better quality of life,” concluded Alvarez.
The school also takes students on road trips for college visitations. And they offer financial aid workshops to parents. And Hialeah is a public charter school that gets kids through a lottery. Students do not pay tuition.
Click here to watch the video: https://foxbaltimore.com/news/project-baltimore/new-educational-lessons-baltimore-schools-could-learn