A nonprofit based in Montgomery County is offering a potential solution for kids struggling with mental health issues in Lancaster County: another charter school.
The Lincoln Center for Family & Youth, a community-based organization that offers counseling and mental health services in southeast Pennsylvania, has proposed a 200-student charter school in the Conestoga Valley School District.
What would be the county’s second publicly funded brick and mortar charter school — with La Academia Partnership Charter School in Lancaster city being the first — the TLC Leadership Charter School would serve students in kindergarten through 12th grade who have experienced trauma or suffer from anxiety, depression or other mental health issues.
If approved by the school district, classes would begin Sept. 1, 2020.
GT Freeman, CEO of the Lincoln Center, told LNP on Monday that he hopes the proposed school will fill a need in Lancaster County.
“We’re focused on a very small segment of the population who need additional socioemotional health supports that they’re generally not getting,” Freeman said.
His organization also runs a small private school in Montgomery County, TLC Leadership Academy, which serves similarly at-risk students. The private school model, he said, has limited The Lincoln Center’s influence, whereas a charter school would offer fewer barriers for parents seeking an alternative to traditional public school.
“Our mission is to serve as many at-risk youth as we can and we felt that in the private school mode, we were only able to support a small number of students,” he said.
Why Lancaster County?
Freeman said Lancaster County caught his eye when analyzing data from the state’s biennial Pennsylvania Youth Survey.
The 2017 report states that, of about 13,000 county students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12, 36% said they “felt depressed or sad most days”; 33% said they at times think they’re “no good at all”; and 24% said they sometimes think “life is not worth it.”
Those percentages are slightly below statewide averages of 38.1%, 35.1% and 24.8% respectively.
The proposed charter school would offer trauma-informed teaching and daily group counseling sessions, with additional private sessions available if needed.
The school, Freeman said, would also offer project-based and STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and math — learning.
All students would be under one roof, with students progressing at their own pace, Freeman said.
The school, according to documents from its application to Conestoga Valley, would employ a principal, custodian, receptionist, food service director, technology director, as well as 18 regular education teachers, eight special education teachers and four leadership coaches.
Counseling services would be contracted through The Lincoln Center. A business manager will be contracted through Charter Choices, a consulting firm that serves more than 40 charter schools.
Conestoga Valley students would be given preference in enrollment, although Freeman said the school will accept students from School District of Lancaster and other county school districts.
School District of Lancaster board President Edith Gallagher said in an email Monday that the district looks forward to “learning more about the proposal and its impact on our district as CV considers the application in the coming weeks.”
Conestoga Valley Superintendent Dave Zuilkoski said he wanted to give the process more time to play out before commenting.
Freeman will present more information at a Conestoga Valley school board meeting on Wednesday. The school board may vote whether to approve the charter school as early as mid-September.