Dispelling myths: Leaders and community from Bemidji’s charter schools meet with state legislators at TrekNorth
BEMIDJI -- There's no magic dust, he said. Charter schools like TrekNorth, according to its director Dan McKeon, struggle with stereotypes that they're unorthodox and offbeat. "We just try to teach really damn well," he said. Leaders and communit...
BEMIDJI -- There’s no magic dust, he said.
Charter schools like TrekNorth, according to its director Dan McKeon, struggle with stereotypes that they’re unorthodox and offbeat.
“We just try to teach really damn well,” he said.
Leaders and community from Bemidji’s charter schools met with state legislators at TrekNorth Monday evening to dispel myths that often hang over the schools, and to share stories about what it’s like to be enrolled in them.
“People paint us as the ‘Wild West’ of education,” McKeon told the visitors, Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids and Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji. “But we’re held accountable.”
He ran through the requirements charter schools meet: How teachers must be licensed like at any other school, how the schools must continually apply for authorization to stay open.
He said beliefs by some that charter schools only enroll troubled kids (or conversely only enroll precocious kids) are unfounded.
“You can’t describe our average student. We’re so diverse,” he said.
TrekNorth, a middle school and high school, has made its name emphasizing college preparation and experiences gained on class trips: Climbing mountains in Wyoming and feeding the homeless in Chicago.
Schoolcraft Learning Community, a K-8 school, hosts Forest Tuesdays, in which students spend much of their day in an outdoor classroom by the lake.
And Voyageurs Expeditionary School, a middle school and high school, focuses its curriculum on hands-on, project-based learning.
McKeon said students come to TrekNorth and other charter schools, usually, because of size.
That was the case for the families that showed up Monday.
A student from Voyageurs said the small class sizes there help students build relationships with their teachers -- all the more important, she said, because many of the students have unsteady home lives, or have made significant mistakes in their pasts.
At Voyageurs, “it’s less about what you’ve done,” she said, “and more about what you can do.”
Another woman spoke about enrolling her daughter at Schoolcraft eight or so years ago, originally drawn there because of the small classes.
“I had no idea the school is out of a storybook,” she said of the big yellow school in the woods.
She said her daughter, who started there in kindergarten and is now in eighth grade, has taken classes in French, piano and conflict management.
“It makes me confident she’ll be a successful grownup,” she said.
When another woman found out there was an opening at TrekNorth for her daughter, “it felt like we won the lottery,” she said.
McKeon, of TrekNorth, appealed to the legislators to raise funding for charter schools, which is less per pupil than for other public schools. He also told Saxhaug and Persell to ease the transportation burden for Bemidji Area Schools, which buses students to charter schools and is often at a disadvantage because of its large geographic size.
At the end of the hourlong presentation, Saxhaug said charter schools have proven a solid alternative for families dissatisfied with other public schools.
“I don’t see us as an alternative,” McKeon said.
Too often, it seems to him, families aren’t running toward charter schools. They’re running away from other schools.