There are tons of great charter schools in New York and Connecticut going above and beyond for their students. This means staving off the summer slide, either with an extended year or a robust program to keep their students engaged in these summer months. New Dawn Charter High School in Brooklyn serves the highest-need students, specializing in kids who are over-aged and under-credited. Their year-round program provides valuable time for seniors to finish up, or for other students to catch up on their credits.
For many New York City students who have been continually failed by traditional schools, there is a charter school working overtime to give them a chance to succeed. And it’s this extra attention that is making the difference between failure and success – and ultimately the students’ chance to attend college after high school.
New Dawn Charter High School serves a unique, at-risk student body. The Brooklyn charter is a transfer school that specializes in over-aged, under-credited students who need an opportunity to receive a high school diploma. New Dawn welcomes students with disabilities, English language learners, students in severe poverty, or any other students who have fallen through the cracks in other schools. This can even mean kids who face challenges like homelessness or substance abuse.
To turn these students’ lives around, New Dawn teachers work year-round. Since the majority of the student body is over-aged and under-credited, New Dawn’s summer classes over the past several years have been essential in helping seniors earn their diplomas.
“Sometimes we have students who need just one class or a Regents exam to graduate. We make sure they finish up in time to go to college in September,” said Dr. Sara Asmussen, New Dawn’s Executive Director. “The summer is a quieter time where we can be laser-focused on academics, and the kids prefer that.”
The school’s summer session is not open to new enrollees, instead focusing on the students who have been in the school. Since it is a smaller group of kids, this allows for two teachers in each classroom and more individualized attention for the students who need it. This is a great opportunity for relationship building and giving the students more support.
Dr. Asmussen said, “Over the summer we can work with kids in different ways. This gives teachers that extra time to really focus on these struggling kids in ways they wish they can, but don’t always have time to during the school year.”
Summer session had previously only been open to the upper classmen, but this year the school expanded it to freshmen with the fewest credits. This is a critical opportunity for them to make up classes and get ahead on their academics by the time the new school year starts in the fall.
“We had new kids who were really behind on their credits, and they were on such a roll this year we opened up the summer classes to them,” Dr. Asmussen said.
Having students come in over the summer is huge in developing and sustaining the school’s culture.
“For many of our students, this time in the summer helps us set the tone for September,” said Principal Lisa DiGaudio. “You can have a kid who is habitually badly behaved, getting in altercations with the staff during the school year. That student will come in over the summer and the lightbulb goes off. They kick it into another gear. That experience is key in helping them finish up.”
The stories Dr. Asmussen and DiGaudio share about the summer work are inspiring. They spoke of a former student who was an emancipated minor. He came to the school in its first year severely behind in credits, but graduated within two years. His road was unbelievably tough – he even went to housing court during the school year (with the school’s staff supporting him) and represented himself.
“The judge was so impressed that he told the young man he should become an attorney,” Dr. Asmussen said. “He was so excited and inspired. He worked hard through our summer classes, and he went on to work in the office at a law firm.”
New Dawn is also working to recruit more young adults. A pair of 22 year-old students are working for their diplomas, and a 23 year-old just received his.
Dr. Asmussen said, “It is sad when a kid turns 21, doesn’t have enough credits, and has to go. We’re reaching out to kids who dropped out at 21 and asking them to come in for summer sessions. We want them to succeed.”
DiGuadio says of the summer work, “Even if a student has to come back in September, the summer gives us time to come up with a plan to make sure they can graduate and go to college.”
This type of dedication to above and beyond for students makes New Dawn an essential option for so many. For them, working overtime is just part of the work.