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Challenge Charter Academy receives $1 million grant
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 Cindy Simpson, director of Project Adventure, recently announced the United States Department of Labor awarded the Challenge Foundation oundation $1 million for the organization of Challenge Charter Academy at the former campus of R.L Cousins High School.

"It's a big grant," Simpson said, "and we're one of six in the country that got it."

In early May the Employment and Training Administration of the Department of Labor made approximately $20 million available for Youthful Offender Grants.

The grants are distributed in one of three categories - for the placement of juveniles released from the criminal justice system into registered apprenticeships, for expanding projects serving juvenile offenders and for the development of alternative education pathways.

 Project Adventure's Challenge Foundation will receive funds for increasing alternative education through Challenge Charter Academy, which is scheduled to open to students in August 2008.

"The whole idea is to look at kids who are really at risk of dropping out, who can't function in a traditional high school or who already have dropped out," Simpson said. "It's all about increasing the graduation rate and decreasing the drop out rate."

Simpson explained how a teacher and counselor will lead every class, which will have a maximum of 15 students.

She said the charter school's concentration on career skills and attainment and small class and student body size will cater to a different kind of student than the county's existing alternative school, Sharp Learning Center.

"The smaller number of kids you have in a school like Sharp," Simpson said, "the better education they receive."

Linda Hayden, Newton County associate superintendent for curriculum, said the school will serve approximately 120 at-risk middle and high school students in its first year.

"It will also serve students in the residential programs who are wards of the state and are referred generally by DFACS [Department of Family and Child Services] or the Department of Juvenile Justice," Hayden said.

She added Sharp Learning Center does not offer residential programs as Challenge Academy will.

"Students placed at Sharp are generally referred by a tribunal for behavioral issues.

Jessica Robinson, director of educational development for the Challenge Foundation, explained how she and Simpson are working closely with the Newton County Board of Education and central office administration to ensure the school achieves its goals.

She said although a large portion of the funding for the renovation of the old Cousins building comes from a youthful offender grant, the academy will not solely cater to students involved in the juvenile justice system.

"Because it is a charter school, it is a public school that anyone in Newton County can enroll in," Robinson said.

The attendance zone of the academy extends throughout the entirety of Newton County. Applicants will be selected randomly for enrollment.

Robinson said credit recovery would be a large part of the curriculum for the academy.

She explained the school's unique discipline policy.

"We don't have suspension as an option," Robinson said. "If you get in trouble for certain offenses, then you go to boot camp."

Project Decision is a substitute for out-of-school suspension currently operating in Newton County. The facility provides consequences for inappropriate behavior in school as well as a therapy program.

Simpson said because the academy is a public school, it will receive Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax dollars for the students it serves who reside in Newton County.

Chatham County approved plans to build a charter middle school in 2006, marking the first time in Georgia a charter school was added to a district's SPLOST and a building was provided by the district.

Robinson said the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation also awarded the Challenge Foundation and the Newton County Recreation Department with a $250,000 grant for the renovation of Cousins' gym.

Challenge Academy will use the gym during the day and the Recreation Department will use it for evening and weekend programs.

Robinson said the gym renovation not only gives two organizations a place to provide their services, but also preserves a piece of the county's history.

"The gym right there is a really a unique structure because of its circular shape and the fact it used to belong to the African-American high school in the county," Robinson said.

From 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Dec. 6, the Challenge Foundation and the Recreation Department will host a check presentation and reception at the Cousins building.

Representatives from the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation, team mascot Freddy Falcon and the Newton County Community Band directed by T.K. Adams will be present at the event.

Robinson also invited other local non-profit organizations to the event to share information about their work with attendees.

"My goal with the Challenge Foundation is to really be more involved in the community," Robinson said.

She currently is awaiting word on several other grants including a $3 million Career Academy Grant from the office of the Lieutenant Governor. The grant would allow course development for partnering the academy with local technical colleges.

"We're trying to really figure out what the needs are for Newton County so we can offer those classes," Robinson said.

Robinson and Simpson expected State School Board approval for the academy on Dec. 12.

For more information about Department of Labor Youthful Offender Grants, visit