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Charter Schools Take Aim at At-Risk Students

M.S Butler

Of the more than 600 charter schools in Florida. Some focus on the arts, some on sciences. Others are high schools that help students who are at risk for not finishing or dropping out completely.

At the crossroads of  busy four lane highway in Clearwater, students have to make their way through the noise and exhaust of heavy traffic to get to their high school classes.

Tucked in the back of of a strip mall is Enterprise High School. The 5-year-old charter school focuses on just one kind of student, those at risk for not finishing high school at all.
You may have one a lot like it very close by and not even know it.

 Donna Hulbert, Director of the school says Enterprise gives its student free bus passes, eliminating one obstacle to getting here on time.

“We are located here, really, for one purpose only. We have four bus stops on the corners of our intersection.”

Credit M.S Butler
Director of Enterprise High School Donna Hulbert

Some students ride the bus from St. Petersburg, two hours away. This charter school serves a little over 400 students ages 16 to 21.

Students attend one of two sessions—one for morning or afternoon. The teachers work with students one on one, in small groups and oversee online instruction, earning whatever remaining credits they need to graduate, one credit at a time.

This morning Aurela Mustali is teaching science to four young men around a small table. Hulbert says the ultimate goal is to get these students a diploma and help them move on to the job market, the military or even to college.

"The one common denominator is that our kids have not been successful in the traditional model, for whatever reason, said Hulbert.”

Jaclyn Brauning is 19. She says she was bullied by students and staff and felt lost at her traditional high school. Enterprise wasn’t her first choice.

“I actually decided to do online home school. But that didn’t work because I’m not self-disciplined enough to do that. So that’s why I came here. It’s a lot better for me. I have to push myself, but the teachers are there, pushing me, right behind me,” said Brauning.

Jacklyn Brauning, 19, is one of the students at Enterprise High School. She is scheduled to graduate on June 4, 2015.

Hulbert ticks off a laundry list of reasons students come to Enterprise and not a traditional high school. Many need to  work to help their unemployed parents or support their own children. Others face a serious illness or death in the family. Some are  homeless.

"Sometimes when you hear what these kids have been through it's much more than any adult I know has been through. And so it's just amazing that they're here and they understand the importance of a high school diploma," said Hulbert.

Hulbert believes relating to students must be a priority for teachers and staff at Enterprise. As proof she gives all of her students her cell phone number.

“I always say if we are having behavioral difficulties with a particular student the first thing I ask my teachers—do you know their story," said Hulbert. " Do you know that kid’s story?”

Jaclyn Brauning's story will be one of them.  She just earned one of the final credits she will need to graduate, an accomplishment that entitles her to ring a bell in the front hall.

Brauning says "It's a bell we ring when we finish a class. And when you ring it you can hear all the kids around the school yelling 'yeah--woohoo'!"

That, they say is the sound of success.

M.S. Butler joined WUSF in October, 2014 after becoming the first recipient of the Stephen Noble Intern Scholarship. A Bay Area resident since 1999, he became a full-time student at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg in Fall 2012.He has written articles for the school newspaper The Crow’s Nest covering topics ranging from seasonal flu shots to students carrying guns on campus.