Christel House eyeing adult charter school

Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana Inc. has proved that a huge demand exists for high school dropouts wanting a second chance to pursue a diploma.

Its popular charter high school for adults, The Excel Center, has enrolled 814 students at three locations in Indianapolis. Yet a waiting list of 400 exists.

Now another local organization is wading into the adult education waters to provide additional assistance by opening a similar charter school.

Christel House Academy on the city’s south side has applied to the mayor’s office for its second charter, which could be granted by the end of the year. Pending City-County Council approval, Christel House’s new charter high school for adults is targeted to open in August.

The school would be an extension of Christel House’s mission—to provide a holistic education to students living in poverty, said Carey Dahncke, principal and director of the academy.

“At 18 or 17, dropping out and working at McDonald’s, housing and insurance aren’t necessarily a big concern,” he said. “But two kids later and a broken-down car and no health insurance, [dropping out] begins to feel like a stupid decision.”

Christel House Academy launched in fall 2002 and has 577 students enrolled this school year from kindergarten through high school at its facility at 2717 S. East St.

The plan is to launch the charter high school for adults at the same location and use existing teachers and classrooms in the evenings and weekends, Dahncke said.

Ivy Tech Community College expects to partner with Christel House to provide courses to students enrolled at the high school, in addition to the general population on the south side, where Ivy Tech does not have a presence.

The Ivy Tech connection gives the adult students an opportunity to earn a trade certificate or two-year degree, on top of a high school diploma.

“The goal is to quickly move them along to gain access to college or vocational training programs,” Dahncke said.

About 150 to 175 adult students should be able to participate in the program the first year. Whether it expands to the size of Goodwill’s Excel Center remains to be seen, he said.

But judging from Goodwill’s wait list, and Indianapolis Public Schools’ lowly graduation rate, demand could be strong for years to come.

The State Department of Education reported IPS’ graduation rate at 63 percent in 2010, up from 42 percent in 2008. Statewide, Indiana’s graduation rate is nearly 85 percent.

Too often, high school dropouts resort to crime, end up in prison, and may get a second chance at programs such as RecycleForce LLC. The not-for-profit on Sherman Drive in the old Thompson plant puts ex-offenders to work recycling electronic waste. Since its inception, about 350 former felons have found work at the program, 35 percent of which entered without a GED or high school diploma, said RecycleForce President Gregg Keesling.

“Any opportunity you have to improve your education is going to lessen your chances of going back [to prison],” he said.

Scott Bess, chief operating officer of Goodwill Education Initiatives, realizes not all dropouts want to return to school. Still, he knows the need is far greater than the roughly 800 students enrolled at Goodwill’s Excel Center.

Having Christel House pick up some of the slack would be of great help, Bess said.

“Assuming that their application gets approved, they’ll run a really good school,” he said. “There’s still incredible need in the city.”

Goodwill’s first charter high school for adults opened in September 2010 on the campus of its Indianapolis headquarters, at 1635 W. Michigan St.

Two more opened this past September—one at the AmeriPlex industrial park on the city’s west side and another at the Avondale Meadows on East 38th Street. The Avondale school officially opens the first of December. For now, students are housed in modular buildings.

The school at AmeriPlex south of Indianapolis International Airport strives to help students find a job in Indianapolis’ burgeoning logistics industry. Goodwill also pays tuition for students to take the first steps toward earning industry certificates or degrees at Ivy Tech Community College.

“Our mission here is to serve as many people as possible,” Bess said. “If it’s us, great. If it’s somebody else, that’s good, too.”•

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