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Lighthouse looks to lead

School District 12 in the South Bronx has reported a low four-year graduation rate for its high school students ― 54.1 percent for the class of 2014.

A charter school on Intervale Avenue is not only looking to change that number, but also guarantee that all of its students get into college.

When Bronx Lighthouse College Prep Academy (BLCPA) graduates its first class of seniors on June 27, all 41 of them will moving on to a four-year college or university this fall.

“It isn’t the norm in the community that we live in,” remarked principal Dianne Hardcastle.

“Unfortunately, most high schools in this area are focused on that bare minimum of getting kids to complete high school requirements,” she said. “For us, we really need to make sure they are prepared for maximum opportunity.”

BLCPA, launched in 2011, is the high-school segment of a K through 12 charter school under the Bronx Lighthouse umbrella, which provides an intense, arts-infused college prep curriculum.

Admission to BLCPA, which currently has about 215 students, is lottery-based.

The student body represents the population of the community, said Hardcastle, with 89 percent of students receiving free or reduced price lunch.

BLPCA seniors were accepted into a wide variety of colleges, including Cornell University, Wellesley College, Barnard College, Binghamton University, Ursinus College, Baruch College, Stony Brook University and Hunter College.

“Two of our seniors received full financial scholarships, and we have a student going to an Ivy League school,” said Alice Choi, Director of College Transitions at BLCPA.

The school’s curriculum is rigorous and focuses students on developing skills they will need as college students.

There are five advanced placement (AP) courses at BLCPA, and more than 100 students took at least one AP exam this past school year.

“Most public high schools in our community don’t offer those types of courses that are really important for college admission purposes,” commented Hardcastle.

The school’s first senior class will be celebrated during a graduation ceremony at Fordham University’s McGinley Ballroom on Thurs., Jun. 25th.

Graduating senior Keith Small will attend Emory and Henry College in Virginia in September.

A Bronxville resident who has attended BLCPA since the second grade, Small credits the school with inciting him to set higher goals for himself.

“They really push you,” said Small. “They want you to do more than just what is acceptable.”

Small is the first person in his family to attend college, where he intends to study mass communications.

“Half of the people I know from my neighborhood aren’t going to college, so that’s something I really wanted to achieve,” he stated.

Small said that being among the first BLCPA graduates made him feel like a role model to others at the school.

“I feel like juniors there are looking up to me and thinking, ‘I can achieve that too,’” remarked Small.

It is BLCPA’s promise to students that if they graduate from the academy, they will be admitted to a four-year college or university.

Hardcastle said that in areas with high poverty rates such as the South Bronx, many families don’t view college as an option for their children.

“Convincing parents of that is part of our mission, and we educate them about all of the financial assistance that is available to them, so they can see that college isn’t unattainable,” said Hardcastle.

The school works closely with students to apply to a variety of colleges, including those that might be a reach for them and those that would be considered safety schools.

“We want our students to see that colleges will be coming after them, trying to get them to go there,” said Choi.

“We’re looking for our students to get not just into any college or university, but one that will transform their lives,” added Hardcastle.

Bronx Lighthouse College Prep Academy is located at 1005 Intervale Avenue, Bronx NY 10459.

For more information, call 646.915.0030 or visit www.lighthouse-academies.org/schools/bronx-prep.

Source: The Bronx Free Press, Gregg McQueen