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School catering to juvenile offenders gets approval

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Juvenile offenders will have new programs catering to their educational needs starting next year in Indianapolis.

The city will be the first in the nation to open a charter school designed for youth passing through the juvenile court system and other troubled students.

The Francis Marion Academy, which could operate within Indianapolis Public Schools, will focus on students released from detention and those suspended or expelled from their home school, The Indianapolis Star reported. The school was approved June 3 by the Indianapolis Charter School Board.

An offshoot at the Marion County Juvenile Detention Center will provide detainees six hours of instruction each day.

As many as 200 students in grades six through 12 could participate in the academy when it opens for the 2015-2016 school year, said Scott Bess, chief operating officer of Goodwill Education Initiatives and one of the organizers.

"This is a win, not just for this application, but for all the students who gone through a time of incarceration or having been suspended or expelled from school and don't have an option today," Bess said. "If you look across this city, you see a lot of crime, a lot of bad things in the news lately. This is an opportunity to take students who don't have anything good going on for them and give them hope."

Organizers hope the instruction in a highly structured environment will help students earn an Indiana Core 40 diploma and at least one industry-related certificate so they are ready for the workforce.

Mayor Greg Ballard has said he supports the school and its efforts to stem juvenile recidivism and help at-risk youth graduate high school prepared for the work force.

The academy's concept comes from Marion Superior Judge Clark Rogers and Charles Parkins, superintendent of the detention center. They formed Alternatives in Education, the group applying for the charter.

Parkins and Rogers said they may need to seek funding from philanthropic organizations and the community or pursue legislative changes to fully fund the school.

"If we can do anything to get students who are starting to head down the wrong path to get a diploma and a certificate, that is a terrific outcome for everyone involved," Bess said.

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