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What's next for these students?

South Bend races to fill gap left by two alternative schools. By JOSEPH DITS Tribune Staff Writer SOUTH BEND — Two alternative schools welcomed them and, in many cases, re-ignited their interest in learning. Expelled students. Dropouts. Kids who ran away from home or somehow got into trouble. But, for the next year, both The Crossing and Central Academy won’t be able to serve nearly the number of kids they’ve seen at their South Bend campuses. Each has suffered a sudden loss of income over the past year for different reasons. And at a school board meeting Monday, the South Bend Community School Corp. left them each with a fairly clear answer to their pleas for a financial partnership that would have kept them open: No. It begs the question: Where will the students go? South Bend Superintendent James Kapsa said he’d rather craft alternatives within the corporation. “I believe the South Bend Community School Corp. can do a much better job of finding ways to help kids stay in school,” he told the board. That is still in the works. He hopes to present a program for the board’s approval by early October, which would go into effect immediately. In spite of Kapsa’s views, the board debated Monday whether it should forge a relationship with the schools. Eventually, a motion to work with The Crossing for one year died in a 4-3 vote. Central Academy At the Frederick Juvenile Justice Center, Director Bill Bruinsma is worried by a trend he sees. Kids drop out of school as high school freshmen or sophomores, then are picked up by police for delinquency. By the time they should be in their junior year, they have few high school credits. The JJC can then hook them up with a GED program, but as a youth grows closer to an adult age, it’s harder to work with the family, he says. The community, Bruinsma says, needs to find a different way to deal with suspensions and expulsions — and not just in South Bend schools. Maybe, he suggests, students could be ordered to in-school suspension, where they’d have to stay after school, too, to work on studies. It would keep students engaged in school, he says. Central Academy is nestled inside the JJC. Juvenile Judge Peter J. Nemeth started the school in 2001 because kids were entering the ninth grade who could barely read. It teaches seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders, all of whom have been ordered by the court to be there. These aren’t kids living in the JJC. They live at home because they’ve been deemed less of a risk to the community. But they’ve been involved in some kind of juvenile delinquency. It’s part of the JJC’s day reporting program, an alternative to lodging kids at the JJC. The kids have to show up at the JJC on a regular basis for counseling, and their parents must show up periodically for family therapy. Bruinsma says the day reporting program will go on regardless, but it would miss Central Academy as a key piece, having held classes daily from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Central Academy’s director, Vicki McIntire, says she has enough money squirreled away to just run Central Academy’s GED program for one year, serving up to 20 students. Central Academy normally taught about 35 students at a time. Even if the school corporation surprised it with an offer, time is thin, Bruinsma says: “What if my teachers find other jobs? It’s such a small school; it relies on good people doing the work.” The Crossing “We’ll be back in South Bend,” pledges Rob Staley, The Crossing’s director. But he’s so frustrated with the school corporation that he assures his plans won’t have anything to do with it. The Crossing wanted only the South Bend kids who dropped out or were expelled from school. The faith-based school has taught 70-some students at a time in South Bend. With the school corporation as partner, Staley was willing to swell that number to the hundreds. Now, lots of ideas are swirling around that would involve The Crossing with partners like The Apprentice Academy, which does career and technical training for at-risk kids, and other education-related groups. Nothing is cemented. Phil D’Amico of the Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County is involved since he helps to facilitate some educational efforts. Opening a charter school is one of the ideas, Staley says. Another big dream is joining their forces in an educational center in the old North Village Mall. But Staley points out: “That’s going to take a lot of time and money.” All Staley can say for certain is that his staff is moving out of its South Bend school at 1820 S. Michigan St. and shuffling the teachers to other campuses. One of The Crossing’s 15-passenger buses will take its South Bend students to the Elkhart campus. School begins July 27. There are 30 returning students, plus however many new ones sign up. That will be limited because The Crossing still has to raise private money for the South Bend students’ tuition, Staley says. At all of The Crossing’s seven other campuses in northern Indiana, he says, public school districts share state funding to pay for The Crossing’s students. South Bend schools Kapsa wants his program to reach intermediate and high school students who’ve been expelled. The district expelled a total of 33 students last year, he says. He says administrators have been working on options since this spring, when, as a cost-saver, the corporation ended the RISE alternative program, believing it was ineffective. But where would the school be and how many kids could it take? Kapsa says officials haven’t gotten that far yet. “We’re past the brainstorming and we’re into the feasibility studies,” he says. One possibility is to take ideas from the Bendix School, the corporation’s own alternative school for dropouts, mostly in high school. Another thought, he says, is that it doesn’t have to be in the regular school day. Would any of this cost extra? That isn’t clear yet. “We’re trying to work with the Bendix staff,” he says. “Or there could be a teacher from one high school who’d be available who could come for the afternoon.” Staff writer Joseph Dits: (574) 235-6158]]>