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Five Years In, Young Scholars Thrives With Global Approach

by on August 20, 2010 9:06 AM

They represent just about every corner of Earth, the dozens of international flags displayed inside the Young Scholars of Central Pa. Charter School.

Every student enrolled here, the largest bricks-and-mortar charter school in the State College area, may choose to have his or her ancestry identified and celebrated with flags. They're strung high above the floor of the multi-purpose room, where the 155 students gather for lunch and other group events.

That arms-wide-open approach to international cultures is rooted in the DNA at Young Scholars, which has grown steadily since its modest establishment five years ago in Cato Park. Now with kindergarten through eighth grade, the school has forged a respected position as a diverse, vibrant community that nurtures stand-out achievement.

"As a parent, you always know what's going on with your child," said Leslie Adams, the mother of two Young Scholars students. She also works in administrative support at the school.

"You can be as active as you want," Adams said. "Some parents volunteer daily; some volunteer every couple months. Either way, the children thrive."

Founded in 2005 by several Penn State-affiliated researchers, Young Scholars has always been grounded in a global, multi-cultural sensibility. Its students are immersed in a variety of language classes -- in Chinese, Spanish and Turkish -- and an ever-increasing number of academic subjects. Algebra was added this past academic year; geometry will be added for 2010-2011.

The results are substantial. This year, more than 90 percent of Young Scholars students tested at proficient or advanced-proficient levels in state reading and math tests -- a performance that placed them ahead of averages in mainstream State College-area public schools.

"We continually look at our curriculum," said CEO and Principal Levent Kaya. Last year, Young Scholars received a three-year, six-figure federal grant to support its work in Chinese and Turkish education. It was the latest in a series of diverse grants awarded to support the school's innovative efforts.

The Young Scholars global approach extends to extracurricular activities, which include some 20 clubs and other student organizations. Its Turkish Club, for instance, recently returned from a trip to Turkey.

During the school year, special celebrations range from traditional U.S. holidays -- such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Veterans Day -- to the school's internationally themed gatherings. Those include a Mother Language Day, when students showcase the cultures of their forebears; A Touch of Culture, which last year focused on Africa; and an international week, in which students often invite their relatives to visit.

This is a school that embraces variety, taking time to highlight the Chinese New Year, traditional Turkish dancing, even Rubik's Cube contests. It also provides strong offerings in music and drama, among a full complement of artistic and competitive programs. The Young Scholars Math Olympiad and Destination Imagination squads have won top honors in Pennsylvania just within the past few years.

And with an option for an extended school day, the students have no shortage of time to indulge in their surroundings here. The school has been situated on its nine-acre campus, at Westerly Parkway and Blue Course Drive, for three years now. It's an airy, pristine area of State College.

Part of the grounds is established as a wetland, an environmental feature developed by the school -- and its students -- with grant support. Another part is a carefully trimmed soccer field.

The building sits on one level, with one classroom designated for each grade. (Fifth grade has two classrooms.) Each class, as a matter of principle, has no more than 20 students, a standard that school organizers have committed to maintain.

Two wings now house the whole operation, though a planned eventual expansion would allow Young Scholars to include two classes of each grade level. Already, the school is seeking approval from the State College school board to add another kindergarten class. Longer term, Kaya said, the school may expand to add a high school, though that prospect is well down the road.

In any event, Young Scholars could make use of the space. A waiting list for the K-8 operation counts about 110 names, nearly all of them in the queue for kindergarten openings.

The school's popularity even stretches across county lines. While more than two thirds of the student body are State College-area students, Young Scholars also enrolls kids from the Bellefonte, Penns Valley, Philipsburg, Huntington, Mifflin County and Bellwood Antis areas.

No matter where they're from, all the students at Young Scholars attend tuition-free. Because it is a charter school, costs are covered through the public school districts; Young Scholars receives a pre-set amount of district money for each student who enrolls.

Its status as a charter school also affords Young Scholars some unique flexibility, such as the ability for teachers to make house calls. The entire school is overseen by an independent Board of Trustees, much as a private school would be.

"There are no exclusionary groups here; there are no cliques," said Adams, the parent. "Students at Young Scholars really break down social barriers."

More information about the school, including enrollment details, is available through its website.

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The staff of StateCollege.com prepared this article. Reach us at (814) 238-6201.
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