Kids Unlimited Academy Public Charter School has already started fall classes — a week before other Medford schools. That's just one of the ways the school differs. Although some see charter schools as a threat to traditional public education, we think of them — when done right — as strengthening public schools in all the right ways.
It's important to remember that charters schools are public schools, but with a different emphasis. They're not for every child, but for those who can benefit from their approach, they can be a better fit than a traditional school.
Kids Unlimited not only starts earlier in the year, but offers extended hours. Students are there from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and eat three meals a day at school while participating in afternoon enrichment activities such as tae kwon do, dance, cooking and Chinese.
The school is designed to meet the specialized needs of at-risk kids — 70 percent of the student body qualify for free or reduced-price lunch — but any child in or out of the district can attend, subject to available openings.
Medford's two other charter schools offer different approaches. Logos Public Charter School is designed for home-schooled children to enhance what they learn at home. About 30 percent of Logos students take advantage of on-campus classes. Some instruction is online, and the school offers support to parents who are their children's primary educators.
Madrone Trail is a brick-and-mortar school like Kids Unlimited Academy, but built on the Waldorf model of instruction, which emphasizes age-appropriate learning.
Kid Unlimited Academy began as VIBES — a cumbersome acronym standing for Vitality in Being Educated Socially — but now has been renamed to reflect its connection to its parent organization. Some Medford School Board members were concerned that the school would be tied too closely to Tom Cole's nonprofit community agency, but those fears have proved unfounded. The school has an independent board, but is accountable to the the School Board.
The new name better reflects the true nature of the academy, which shares with the nonprofit agency a commitment to at-risk kids. But the two can pursue their separate missions, regardless of their names.
Kids Unlimited Academy has added fourth grade and all-day kindergarten this year. Eventually the school plans to expand to K-8, preparing students to enter public high schools fully prepared to succeed in that setting. The students Kids Unlimited Academy is designed to serve are those more likely to drop out from traditional schools, so there will be a built-in measurement of success as its students make their way toward graduation.
The successes at the academy, as well as Logos and Madrone Trail, should be embraced by the district and their best ideas incorporated into other district schools. Different can be better.