By Marissa Widdison
The gray, brick box of a building looks more like a warehouse than an educational institution. Judging from the outside of the structure – it used to be occupied by Franklin and Covey – it is hard to imagine what would draw parents to Provo”s first charter school.
Yet some parents drive for almost an hour to drop off their children at the fledgling Freedom Academy elementary school. From Draper, Sandy, Provo, Springville and elsewhere in Utah Valley, they come.
AdreAnn Sundrud has two children in Freedom Academy. For her, parent involvement at the Academy makes the drive from Springville worth it.
“I have more of a say in my children”s educations here,” Sundrud said. “When parents get involved it makes all the difference.”
Along with being a parent, Sundrud is the Parent Teacher Organization president at the Academy.
Parent involvement plays a major role in the school, so much that a board of parents makes decisions about the Academy.
For others, the academic rigor of charter schools is a source of appeal. Freedom Academy takes a “back-to-the-basics” approach to school subjects, and begins teaching foreign languages like Spanish at the elementary-school level.
Jennifer Chiniquy walked through the halls of the Academy, glancing into newly-decorated rooms and asking important questions.
Does the school have a tutoring program? What is the homework load like?
How do test scores of charter schools compare with district-run schools?
The questions were directed to a young blonde woman wearing a Freedom Academy polo shirt. Her name is Andrea Perri, and she is the founder of the Academy. She answered Chiniquy”s questions as they toured the newly-painted hallways.
No tutoring program yet.
Decent amounts of homework, but not overwhelming.
Test scores in the 90th percentile.
She led Chiniquy into a high-ceilinged room occupied by a few lunch tables and basketball hoops. A white sheet of paper taped to the door identified this as the “Lunch Area/Gymnasium.”
Chiniquy seemed undisturbed by the rough appearance, and the two women continued to talk about school districts.
“In (district-run) public schools, there is no individual attention,” Chiniquy said. “There is no acceleration. There is no push.”
Which is why Chiniquy said she is considering sending her second-grade son and fourth-grade daughter to a charter school.
If she chooses to enroll her children at the Academy, Nebo school district – where the children currently attend – will lose two more students. Because the state gives school districts money for each child, Nebo will also lose about $4,000.
And although no teachers have been laid off this year, more charter schools like Freedom Academy could mean less district-run teaching jobs in the future.
But money is not the issue for people like Perri.
“I just want the kids to be happy,” Perri said.
At the beginning of the year, Perri said she was not satisfied with the quality of her children”s education. In February, she decided to do something about it.
“I thought, I could work really hard and benefit my two kids, or I could work really hard and benefit hundreds,” Perri said. “I woke my husband up in the middle of the night and said, ”Honey, I think I”m going to start a charter school.””
Since then, potential faculty were interviewed and hired. The building was fixed up. Teachers and parents worked side-by-side to assemble desks the night before school opened on Wednesday.
And yet, this emphasis on schoolwork and parental involvement did not seem to impress Ressa, a second grader at the Academy.
Her favorite part of school?
“Lunch,” Ressa said. “Because after that we get recess.”