Monday, July 28, 2003

School expects more


And students achieve it

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The W.E.B.DuBois Academy is an educational cult. And after talking with parents, students and teachers there, I've got its religion.

Each weekday, all year, its 250 children arise at the crack of dawn to get to school at 7 a.m.

There's no summer break. The school's first- through eighth-graders attend 240 days a year, even many Saturdays. Most Ohio schools are open 180 days a year.

DuBois' school day ends at 5 p.m., hours after regular schools.

Early on a recent summery Thursday, children were pouring out of cars, buses and vans into the academy's entrance, in a bingo hall in Over-the-Rhine. Students and teachers wear the requisite navy blue blazers, khaki pants and skirts.

Terrell Amison, an unemployed window maker, dropped off his two sons. He said he moved them from Heberle Elementary because they weren't being challenged enough. They'd been on a waiting list for a year.

"I've never heard them talk about school like they talk about this school," Amison says.

I caught up with one of his sons, Kevin Amison, 9, during a two-hour reading class. About a dozen other fourth-graders were, like him, quietly reading books and writing sentences and essay responses to questions.

Kevin said he used to spend summers riding his bike, but he told me he's happier now. Reading is his favorite subject. He hopes to be a writer when he grows up.

"Being in school is not a big deal," he says. "I'm leaving today, going to Baltimore."

That night DuBois students boarded a tour bus for a five-day trip to Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.

Charter schools like this one are supposed to be alternatives to public schools. Supported by state funds and local taxes, most are run independently by nonprofit groups.

Few are as successful academically as DuBois.

Preliminary proficiency test scores show that 100 percent of DuBois' sixth-graders were proficient in writing, 93 percent were proficient in "citizenship," and six in 10 students were proficient in math, reading and science.

Statewide, schools of similar size and demographics can't compare; most of their sixth-graders are below proficient in everything but writing.

DuBois' classes are twice as long as most schools - 90 to 120 minutes long, versus the 45 minutes typical in Cincinnati's public schools.

Class sizes are small, up to 15 students.

DuBois is not all work. Kids take an array of atypical classes - from kung fu to ballet, to piano, to step dance.

Those classes teach concentration and self-discipline, explains Wilson H. Willard III, the school's founder, as he and I watched an eighth-grader complete a nearly flawless martial arts sword dance.

The student, David Napier, had been labeled a "special needs" kid at his old school. His mother told me he passed his proficiency tests and scores high in classes at DuBois.

DuBois doesn't weed out its troubled or disabled kids, Willard says. It does whatever it takes to teach them.

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E-mail damos@enquirer.com or phone 768-8395




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