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Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 27, 2004

Paving Way for Black Students to Succeed in High School

By GREGORY ROBERTS, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter

PORTLAND — Break time was over between classes at the SEI Academy, but not all of teacher Carl Reinhold's students made it to their desks on time for the start of their writing lesson. So he sent them to the principal's office to collect a pass—and a demerit. "We're setting the tone early," Reinhold, 35, said to the sixth-grade class as the latecomers filed in. "You need to get into the right frame of mind in terms of time management. This is not about punishment. It's about giving you the life skill to be where you have to be on time."

A public charter school, the SEI Academy is an outgrowth of Self Enhancement Inc., a non-profit that has pushed since 1981 to broaden opportunities for children, with a focus on Portland's African American population.

SEI sponsors an array of after-school classes and family-support programs, as well as a project that puts coordinators in 11 Portland public schools to work with students at risk of failure.

The academy opened in September with two classes of 25 sixth-graders each—turning away 15 additional applicants—and plans to expand to seventh and eighth grades over the next two years. Nearly all the students are black.

Like most of his academy classmates, Danny Hankins has participated previously in SEI's after-school programs. His father, also named Danny, said the boy was assigned by the Portland School District to a middle school with a lackluster academic track record. SEI Academy offered a more attractive alternative. "It's a smaller setting," the father said. "It's a little bit more one on one, as far as teaching."

Reinhold, who is African American, is one of two teachers, each with a full-time classroom assistant. He taught five years in Beaverton public schools west of Portland before taking the SEI job, at comparable pay. "I was attracted by this particular group of kids—this community, that is in such desperate need," he said.

The SEI Academy enjoys advantages many fledgling charter schools do not. It's housed in the organization's Center for Self Enhancement, a sleek and spacious 62,000-square-foot building that opened in 1996 in north Portland. The center includes a gymnasium, a dance studio, a computer lab with a full-time instructor, a library with a full-time librarian, and a cafeteria.

The school is backed by Self Enhancement Inc., a $7.8 million-a-year operation with a proven record of success. SEI even supplies uniforms for the students at no cost (although transportation is not provided). The organization's resources are extended by per-pupil allocations from the state and a $350,000 federal charter school grant for planning and operations.

At the academy, the goal is to prepare the students to succeed in high school, with an emphasis on character building. "With charter schools, there's this big push to be creative and innovative," said Natasha Butler, the academy's educational director, or principal. "Our focus point is to be effective."

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