YouthBuild charter school won't
reopen in fall
by Jake Wagman, St. Louis Dispatch, June 16,2003
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A St. Louis charter school aimed at teaching dropouts does not
expect to be open next fall, shuttered by the difficulties of
paying for special education and helping students at risk of
The YouthBuild St. Louis Charter School worked with students who
had already dropped out of conventional high school, helping
them learn a vocation and then gain entry into a labor union.
But school officials did not consider that more than a third of
their 60 students had been diagnosed with learning or behavioral
disorders, requiring the school to pay up to $1,000 for
individualized assessment plans and to contract with a private
learning center. The school, if it is open next year, would have
to hire a third full-time teacher just for special education.
"It was definitely an eye-opener - an awakening experience,"
said Joyce Sonn, program director for YouthBuild St. Louis.
The school also lost money from the state because of poor
attendance and lost students who admitted using drugs. Because
labor unions often test their applicants for drugs, the school
also required students to be drug free.
YouthBuild is a national group that helps young adults learn a
trade and obtain their general equivalency diploma. The group
has been sponsoring that program in St. Louis since 1992.
The organization sought to expand the idea to charter schools,
helping students obtain a high school diploma, typically another
requirement for joining a union. The YouthBuild school opened
last fall in Soulard. At the June 6 graduation ceremony, 26
students received diplomas and 13 received certificates for
completion. The other 21 did not finish.
Students spent half their time in the classroom, and the other
half earning $5.30 an hour working on local housing projects.
YouthBuild got its charter from the St. Louis Public Schools and
helped lower the district's dropout rate by enrolling students
who had already left school. Sonn hopes that will encourage the
St. Louis School Board to help revive the school. For now, the
school will not be accepting new students.
"We are not giving up our charter," Sonn said. "We just need
some time to figure out how we can make this work."
Six charter schools remain operational in the city. YouthBuild
will continue to offer a GED program in St. Louis and to be
affiliated with a similar charter school in East St. Louis.
Reporter Jake Wagman: