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The Crossing goes from zero to 3,000 students in 7 years

By November 14, 2010 No Comments

Since then, more than 3,000 students have attended The Crossing. Forty-six employees operate out of nine facilities in and around Elkhart County, with 450 students currently enrolled. The Crossing’s operating budget has increased to $2.7 million annually, nearly half of which is raised within the community. An accredited, faith-based alternative school, The Crossing serves students on the brink of failure. Some have been sent from public schools because of discipline problems. Others have quit or been expelled. Many begin at The Crossing after release from the Department of Corrections. Staley welcomes any students that come his way, regardless of their background. As he sees it, students who can’t make it at The Crossing have two alternatives: jail or death. Staley started The Crossing after serving for more than 20 years as a teacher and administrator for Fairfield and Concord community schools. The public school system does a great job for the majority of kids, he said. But an increasing number of poverty-stricken students don’t mesh with the traditional education system. Staley believes it’s impractical for a teacher to deal with the issues that arise when kids get involved with gangs or drugs in addition to educating 125 students per day. “The problem is we can no longer think about education, everybody fitting into the traditional school box,” Staley said. “It just doesn’t work.” The Crossing’s program is relationship-based. It’s a mistake, Staley said, to ask a Crossing student whether he wants to graduate high school. Instead, the staff establishes a student’s personal determination and motivation. The student-instructor ratio is roughly six-to-one, and 30 minutes of each day is devoted to “family time.” In family time students discuss life issues with Crossing staff. It’s a time for students to examine problems they’re facing and how those circumstances impact their lives. A faith-based aspect of the program, family time is also where students and staff discuss what, if anything, they believe about God. The Crossing’s academic program is completely secular. Seventy-five percent of the curriculum is computer-driven and aligned with state academic standards, Staley said, which reduces the chance of someone zoning off in class. C’s, D’s and F’s have no role in The Crossing’s grading scale. Instead, students are required to master at least 80 percent of each lesson before moving on. Annually, Elkhart Community Schools sends 30 to 40 students to The Crossing. Goshen Community Schools sends 10 to 20 students, and Concord, WaNee and Fairfield send around one each. The Crossing’s Elkhart location also receives 15 students from Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp., largely for that location’s middle school program. Around one-third of the Elkhart and two-thirds of the Goshen campus students are “private” — those who have left or been expelled from school and have nowhere else to go for education. Districts that send students to The Crossing also provide funding, making up for roughly $5,000 of the $6,500 it costs to educate each student. That money is used exclusively for academics and none of the program’s faith-based activities, Staley said. Private students contribute what they can to offset the education costs, which in some cases is as low as $10 per month. Ultimately, forty-five percent of The Crossing’s funding comes from public schools, 12 percent from student-paid tuition and 43 percent from donations and grants. The Crossing fundraises roughly $650,000 annually, with $400,000 of that going to the campuses in Elkhart County. Staley said the program works largely because of the community’s support. He tells people they can either pay $6,000 to educate Crossing students now, or $40,000 to incarcerate them later. “Which would you like to pay?” he asked. “Because you will pay one or the other.” Mark Mow, superintendent for ECS, believes the program is paying off. The program has found a niche in reaching out to certain groups that aren’t fulfilled by traditional academic or other alternative programs, he said. He also credited The Crossing for helping reacclimate students who return to ECS schools after being sent to the DOC. “He’s able to lead that program, I think, and is uniquely qualified to do that, and I think Elkhart County is fortunate to have him here leading that program,” Mow said of Staley. Students who graduate from The Crossing receive an accredited high school diploma. Roughly 70 percent go on to secondary education programs, Staley said, adding that he would like to see that number eventually hit 100 percent. In most cases students transition to work study or community college programs. To encourage students to continue their education, Staley has made a conditional job offer. Alumni who go on to earn bachelor’s degrees in social work, psychology or teaching are guaranteed a job at The Crossing. Five former Crossing students are now serving on staff. Keeping a faith-based alternative education facility functioning can be challenging. Staff has to ensure that members of opposing gangs aren’t in the same classes together and is constantly striving to keep attendance low, with only 35 to 50 students in each building. Staley also acknowledged the potential challenges that can some with the program’s faith component. He’s very aware of the issues Fairfield recently faced with the American Civil Liberties Union filing a lawsuit to stop Bible classes held during the school day. “Could that ever happen to us, yeah,” he said. “Anybody can sue anybody for anything.” When he founded The Crossing Staley hoped that the program would spawn 10 locations in as many years. With nine locations in seven years and counting, Staley still hopes to see the program spread. It’s gaining traction across Indiana, he said, which could lead to additional contracts with public schools. And he’s hopeful it may ultimately expand outside of the state. At the end of the day, he likes to think people would prefer to spend their money educating kids rather than incarcerating them. THE CROSSING AT A GLANCE * The Crossing began in Goshen in 2003 and now has additional campuses in Elkhart, Ligonier, Butler, South Bend, New Haven, Frankfort, Kokomo and Pierceton. The program serves ninth through 12th grade students who do not function well in a normal school environment. The Elkhart campus also serves sixth through eighth graders. * The Crossing accepts students from 17 school systems, including Elkhart, Goshen, Concord WaNee and Fairfield Community Schools locally. * One-third of the Elkhart and two-thirds of the Goshen campus students are “private” — they are not sponsored by any school corporation and are paid for through fundraising and student-provided tuition. All of the South Bend campus students are private, while nearly all of the students at the six remaining campuses come from various school districts. * Overhead costs have grown from $30,000 annually in 2003 to $2.7 million in 2010. Forty-five percent of the program’s budget comes from participating school corporations, 43 percent comes from community donations and grants and 12 percent comes from student-provided tuition. * Classes at The Crossing run three hours per day and include 30 minutes of “family time,” where students and staff discuss issues students are facing in their lives. Upon graduation students receive a state-accredited high school diploma.]]>