At charter school, a class of parents graduates

At charter school, a class of parents graduates

Kellie Woods' daughters Hannah and Canaah are familiar with their mother's emphasis on education.

"Study, study, study," is her constant mantra, they say.

But soon, the girls expect the tables to turn. Woods will return to college in September after accumulating credits at, but never graduating from, four previous degree programs. She is poised to earn a bachelor's degree from Rowan University's Camden campus this fall.

Hannah, 15, and Canaah, 13, of Atco, were just two of dozens of LEAP Academy University Charter School students who gathered Wednesday evening, balloons and flower bouquets in hand, to celebrate the educational achievements of their parents.

Standing alongside their children, Woods and 23 other parents became the first cohort to graduate from LEAP's new adult learning institute, a program designed to prepare charter school parents to enter or reenter higher education.

Launched in January, the program links parents with Rowan, where institute organizers hope all two dozen graduates will earn their bachelor's degrees in the coming years.

Several have already applied, although the university's admissions process is continuing.

School officials say the bachelor's or associate's degrees parents earn at Rowan will vastly improve their job prospects in the Camden area's burgeoning service industries.

And while the parent graduates of the institute said they aspire to improve their career prospects by going on to college, many said they also enrolled to be better role models for their children.

Woods, 47, addressing her fellow graduating parents Wednesday, emphasized the importance of being an "overcomer" - pushing past obstacles such as poverty and unemployment to reach one's goals.

"You are the reason your children are going to do great and awesome endeavors," Woods said. "Because of you, the parent institute will be flourishing with more great leaders and overcomers. . . . You will set the tone for what overcomers do."

The institute consisted of eight two-hour evening sessions, where the parents studied everything from college writing skills to the effect their own educational achievements will have on their children.

For LEAP officials, the adult institute is a crucial expansion of the work the school has done in Camden since its 1997 founding - and of the central role LEAP parents have always played in their children's education.

"Linking parents to education is critical," said Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, LEAP's founder and board chair. "We're building a pipeline not only for the kids. . . . Starting now, we have this pipeline for parents who have children at LEAP, who care deeply about their kids, who want to do something for themselves as well."

LEAP has always encouraged parental involvement, Santiago said.

Parents of students enrolled in the academy sign a partnership agreement stipulating that they will help their children with homework and volunteer with school projects for at least 40 hours per year.

And Santiago noted that it was parents who helped found the LEAP school two decades ago.

Danielle Lopez, a LEAP parent who leads the adult institute, said the program will continue this fall with a cohort of about the same size. LEAP has already seen a great deal of interest from parents, Santiago said.

Some of those who graduated from the institute on Wednesday, including Woods, are unemployed. Others work part or full time in fields such as education and social work.

Their educational backgrounds vary widely as well. Some have not completed their GEDs. Others have earned bachelor's degrees in other countries and are now pursuing additional certification in the United States.

LEAP Academy currently enrolls more than 1,500 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

856-779-3917 @emmaplatoff

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Date Published: Thursday, June 2, 2016 - 13:45
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