When WISH Charter opened its doors in 2010 its founders had one goal in mind: create an inclusive school that would educate and serve all students, regardless of learning differences. In just six short years, the school is proud of what they’ve accomplished. Students are thriving, test scores are up, the Kindness Club is the school’s largest afterschool group, a WISH Middle School opened in 2013 and there’s a wait list every year for students and parents eager to join the WISH family. Always focused on increasing resources for its students, the school now has its sights on its most ambitious plan yet–launching WISH Academy High School and becoming the first fully inclusive public TK through 12th grade school in the United States.
“It is thrilling to be building a high school with teachers, students, parents and community members that truly embraces all children and families and offers four exciting pathways for growth,” said WISH’s Executive Director, Shawna Draxton. “Building a TK through 12 model is necessary so that there is a space and place where researchers, educators, community members and families can come to see high quality, inclusive public education for all students–from students who are highly gifted to individuals with moderate to severe disabilities.”
Slated to open in 2017, WISH Academy hopes to welcome 125 ninth graders in its first year, according to Draxton. Students will have the opportunity to pick one of four pathways, from Engineering, BioMedical Science, Visual/Performing Arts or Liberal Arts/Civics. Electives will include a variety of cutting edge STEM classes like Coding, Robotics and Computer Science, and more traditional offerings like Poetry, Debate and Academic Decathlon. Draxton says the school’s goal is to create leaders that excel academically and put a premium on social justice and giving back to the community. To that end, each student will be required to complete at least 15 hours of community service each year.
“When you raise children in socially just classrooms that value diversity from the outset, children will grow up to value difference, and in turn will become adults that build communities that have spaces and places for all kinds of people because we have taught them that all people matter,” said Draxton.
While making sure that every student feels that they have value and is included seems like a no-brainer, WISH has helped serve as a pioneer for inclusive education, which holds that all students in a classroom should be able to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of school and that all students receive rigorous instruction, from those with disabilities to those that are gifted and high achieving. Draxton says educators and schools still have a long way to go when it comes to inclusive education. Many times students only need instruction with a slight modification or accommodation—from a different type of seat or picture schedule–so that everyone can stay and learn in the same classroom, creating a rich and diverse learning environment for all.
While the school community is excited about having a pathway that can take students from transitional kindergarten through 12th grade, there’s one big hurdle to still overcome. With its elementary school co-located at Wright STEAM Magnet and its middle school students co-located at Cowan Elementary School, Draxton and her team are focused on the new goal of securing a permanent location to unite all of WISH students on one campus. While Draxton says the school is grateful for the local space that Prop. 39 allows, the stress and time to reapply each year takes the focus away from doing what they do best: teaching and inspiring students.
“A unified campus will allow us to share resources for students between teachers,” said Draxton. “It will serve as a comprehensive demonstration site for community members, educators from around the world and university folks to see high quality research to practice innovative education experiences that are meaningful and engaging for all students.”
The school will soon launch a capital campaign with the hope to raise the funds needed to purchase, build and design a state-of-the art campus and learning demonstration site in the Westchester area. With a lottery held each year for coveted spots at the school, a permanent campus could mean more students served and allow WISH to realize its long-term vision of sharing its best practices and creating a network of schools that will serve more communities.
Said Draxton, “The teachers, staff, paraprofessionals, parents, students and community members have worked hard to build our inclusive school and to demonstrate the benefits of valuing all children from the outset of their school experience. Folks who are interested in supporting WISH and a permanent facility for our three schools can donate on our website at wishcharter.org.”
WISH Academy will be holding an information night on Tuesday, December 13 at 6 p.m. For more info and to rsvp visit, wishacademyhs.org.