The entrance to Enterprise High School, a charter school in Pinellas County for students at risk for not completing their educations.
Of the more than 600 charter schools in Florida. Some focus on the arts, some on sciences. Others are high schools that help students who are at risk for not finishing or dropping out completely.
At the crossroads of busy four lane highway in Clearwater, students have to make their way through the noise and exhaust of heavy traffic to get to their high school classes.
Tucked in the back of of a strip mall is Enterprise High School. The 5-year-old charter school focuses on just one kind of student, those at risk for not finishing high school at all.
You may have one a lot like it very close by and not even know it.
Donna Hulbert, Director of the school says Enterprise gives its student free bus passes, eliminating one obstacle to getting here on time.
“We are located here, really, for one purpose only. We have four bus stops on the corners of our intersection.”
About 300,000 Florida students attend a for-profit college, which often specialize in training low-skill workers for a new career.
But students often find their degree doesn’t qualify for the career they were seeking, and they graduate withe tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
Vasquez spoke with StateImpact Florida about what he discovered:
Q: Michael, you have spent a year looking at how for-profit colleges, career colleges, operate in Florida. Why don’t you kind of sum up what you’ve found?
A: Sometimes career colleges, which are mostly for-profit, sometimes they do a good job with students. They take students who are typically non-traditional older students. Maybe, if they’re younger, they probably weren’t the best students in high school.
The Florida Council on Economic Education says personal bankruptcies have increased 2200 percent in the last 40 years. That’s one reason why the council is leading a campaign called Require The Money Course.
Bills filed in the Florida House and Senate would require high school students to take a one-semester financial literacy course. But with just three weeks left in the legislative session, the proposals (House bill 29 and Senate bill 92) haven’t been discussed by committees.
Now, there’s another option in the Florida Senate to get the class into high schools if the legislative proposals fail. An alternative is now part of the Senate budget plan for the state starting in July. It would create a required financial literacy pilot project in Broward County schools and a grant program that would enable other districts to participate.
A survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling finds about three-quarters of Americans think they would benefit from professional help with their everyday finances.
Criminology major Justin Buis, a junior at Florida State University, has friends who could use the help.
“They have a certain amount of money for a semester and by the time the semester is halfway through, all their money is gone,” Buis says. “They’re living on gas station food or ramen noodles because they don’t know how to manage their money.
This week, PBS is launching a new documentary series “180 Days.”
One of the films focuses on Hartsville, South Carolina, a rural and poor district which has managed to become one of the highest rating school districts according to South Carolina’s ranking.
Tampa public media station WUSF hosted a town hall meeting at Artz 4 Life Academy in Clearwater last week to screen a portion of the movie and to discuss education issues. Artz 4 Life is an after-school arts and life coaching program.
Big on the mind of those who attended was Florida’s new test, the Florida Standards Assessments. The test is linked to Florida’s new Common Core-based math and language arts standards, which outline what students should know by the end of each grade.
But parents were worried the new test is expected to be tougher, and must be taken on a computer.
“We went from FCAT to FSA and that’s worse than what we were already at,” said mom of three Lisa Hewitt. “We set our students up to fail…If they weren’t doing so well in FCAT why would we develop another test that’s worse?
Lawmakers asked Education Commissioner Pam Stewart that question in November.
“Are we actually testing their writing,” Stewart said, “or are we then testing their computer skills? I would suggest to you the answer to that really is we need to be doing both.”
Typing was a big enough question about the FSA that the Florida Department of Education decided to let students through 7th grade take a paper and pencil version of the writing test.
But should it be? Florida has used online exams for several years. The state is requiring schools deliver half of classroom instruction digitally, starting this fall. And kids can be pretty adept with computers, tablets and other devices.
Academy Prep in St. Petersburg is a private middle school that only enrolls low-income students.
It’s 7:30 a.m. and the fifth through eight graders at Academy Prep in midtown St. Petersburg are lined up outside to recite the school pledge. It’s a cool February morning and they’re a little fidgety until Head of School Gina Burkett raises two fingers above her head and all goes quiet.
The pledge starts with “ Standing in this room are the greatest, most committed, most responsible people this world has ever known.”
That may sound slightly immodest but getting these kids to believe they are capable of great things is a big part of the curriculum here.
You see, Academy Prep is a private middle school exclusively for children whose families live below the poverty level and it is paid for entirely with corporate and private donations. It’s in one of the poorest areas of Pinellas County.
The school was started 17 years ago when the owners of a local resort overheard their employees talking about the problems their kids were having in the local public school.
So, using their own money and private donations they, along with some retired educators started this not-for-profit school in the heart of one of St. Petersburg’s most troubled neighborhoods.