Laurel Boys and Girls Club's proposed plans for what would be Prince George's County's first public charter high school, Laurel Prep, have changed from a boys-only school to including both boys and girls.
According to club officials, the decision to add girls in the plans for Laurel Prep has pushed the expected 2012 opening of the school back to 2013, that is if the club's charter school application is approved by the county Board of Education.
"We decided to add girls to the school because a lot of our members complained and reminded us that we are a boys and girls club, so we're going to do a school for both," said Levet Brown, club president. "We have until March to submit our application. After our members complained, we never submitted the application for the all-boys school."
Because studies by organizations such as the American School Counselor Association show that boys are three times as likely as girls to have lower educational aspirations and 50 percent more likely to be held back a grade than female students, club officials said many parents favored the all-boys concept.
"But those with daughters also wanted us to do something for the girls as well," said Chantel Upshur-Myles, chair of the five-member Founder's Committee, which was established to oversee the project. Myles, a former club board member who owns a management-consulting firm and is a substitute teacher, added, "The students will co-mingle for courses and activities such as physical education and lunch, but the core courses — math, science and English — will be single-gender classes."
Prior to formulating plans for Laurel Prep, Upshur-Myles and other committee members visited single-sex and co-ed schools in Chicago, including the nationally recognized Urban Prep Academy for young men, where for two years, all of the school's seniors have been accepted to a four-year college.
"The committee decided to still keep the students separate (in some classes) because they were told by school officials in Chicago that boys concentrate better in classes without girls and raise their hands and participate more often in classes," Brown said. "They will go back to Chicago for more observations and meetings at one school they went to before, that had boys and girls."
According to Upshur-Myles and Brown, the Chicago schools have agreed to assist them in developing Laurel Prep's academic program and in duplicating their A Disciplined Life model, which promotes personal self-responsibility and developing student scholars who are college or workforce ready.
"We want everything in order when we open, so we're putting a lot of time and energy in this to make sure it works for the students," Brown said.
The Founder's Committee has not decided whether they will apply for Laurel Prep's first year to include grades eight through 10 or begin with ninth- and 10th-graders only.
"Whether we start with eighth- or ninth-graders, each subsequent year, we'll expand by an additional year until we get to the 12th-grade level," Upshur-Myles said.
With the addition of girls to the plan, figures for the proposed enrollment have increased from 300 students in the first year of operation to 400.
Club officials and committee members hope they will attract an ethnically diverse enrollment of students from throughout the county. If Laurel Prep's application is approved, the school board will oversee the operation and pay the salaries of its principal and teachers. Students will be selected through a county-run lottery for charter schools.
The proposed school will be located in the club's building on Montgomery Street, which was built in 1899 and would need more than $1.5 million in repairs to bring it up to code.
"Once the school charter is approved, we'll get money from the county that can be used for repairs and we'll apply for grants," Brown said.
In the meantime, as club officials continue developing plans for Laurel Prep, space at the Boys and Girls Club is being rented to St. Vincent Pallotti High School, Princeton Day Academy and St. Mary of the Mills School.
"Pallotti is using three classes in our annex, Princeton will have four classrooms in the club, along with the gym and computer labs, and St. Mary's will use the whole Phelps Center when the senior center moves (to the new senior center on Van Dusen Road)," Brown said. "We have one-year leases with St. Mary's and Princeton, and are glad to be bringing in these educators who'll do tutoring for us and provide volunteers for our computer labs. We only have a few volunteers, so this will help us tremendously," he said.