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Hoosier Students Sent to an African Boarding School? Maybe.

A group of Indiana University professors attempting to build a boarding school for inner city school children in Ghana has filed a charter school application with the Indianapolis Mayor’s office.

The idea for the DuBois Institute boarding school goes something like this: it is extremely difficult to educate inner city schoolchildren in an environment rife with drugs, violence, and poverty.

So, the DuBois Institute Founding Committee is proposing to remove those students from that environment by educating them in a boarding school in the west African country of Ghana – and for about the same cost as educating them in Indiana.

IU Law Professor and DuBois Institute Founding Committee Co-Chair Kevin Brown says putting the school in Ghana — where materials and labor are much cheaper than in the U.S. – and suddenly the project becomes revenue neutral.

“We can do it for no more than we’re paying to educate kids now… everything is covered in that $8-12,000 we’re spending a year right now,” Brown said.

Backers say not only does a boarding school remove kids from negative influences, it also allows educators to create the optimal educational environment- one in which they exert control even after the school day ends.

The teachers would be from Indiana, with the support staff being Ghanaian.  Catering to grades 6 through 12 when fully operational, the DeBois institute would employ a curriculum very similar to the one used by the Indianapolis Public Schools.

However, as Jonathan Plucker, Policy Director for Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, or CEEP, says, creative projects breed dissent.

“Whenever you have a good idea you’re going to have more roadblocks,” Plucker said. “All sorts of issues, the political, funding, facilities, they’ve definitely put time into thinking about those issues, and they’re finding ways around them, the devil’s always in the details.”

After it became clear his idea wouldn’t be popular with state lawmakers – who control the purse strings of school general fund budgets – Brown decided to bypass the state legislature entirely and seek a public school charter.

But he says the Institute’s Founding Committee initially shied away from the idea of attempting to charter the school for fear it would set up competition with the Indianapolis Public Schools — the very district whose students the project intends to serve.

However, Brown says the charter school plan havs since received the blessing of IPS leaders.

But as a charter school the DuBois Institute would not receive as much funding from the state as a traditional public school.  But through special incentives the state offers charter schools which educate underprivileged students, Brown estimates the Indiana would kick in as much as eight thousand dollars per student.

Institute leaders figure it’ll take at least that much – and perhaps as much as 12-thousand dollars per student per year to make the school viable.

But there’s is also the issue of how attending a boarding school in a foreign country will affect the kids.  Marsha McCarty is the Agency Director for Catholic Charities in Bloomington- a nonprofit mental health services delivery agency.  She says there are many ramifications of taking kids away from their home- even if the move is intended for their own good…

“When you remove a child from home and friends and family and everything they’re close to. It’s everything that goes along with loss. There’s a grieving process,” McCarty said. “We see it with children who are moved from abusive homes, who for their physical safety we have to remove them.”

McCarty says there could also be problems with reintegrating the children back into the U.S. after school is complete  She also says extensive mental health support may be needed for the students and the Indiana teachers accompanying them.  And then, there are the students’ families’.

“You know in some of these families where parents may be drug addicted, you often have very close relationships between siblings, you’re not just impacting the child going away, you’re impacting the child left behind,” McCarty said.

However, the concept isn’t entirely untested.  The Baltimore Public Schools ran a similar boarding school in Kenya from 1996 until 2002- closing it due to security concerns following 9/11.  Called the Baraka School, it only served 7th and 8th graders but reported the high school graduation rate of its African-American men was more than double the rate for all black male students in Baltimore.

It’s progress like that which Brown wants for students in Indiana.

“These are kids who grow up, they are the problem kids, they are ones we look at and decide how many prisons should we build… well now here’s an opportunity to change all that,” he said.

And, Brown adds, if the DuBois experiment works, it could alter the way urban school children are educated nationwide.

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