School Visit Series: A Charter With a Community Impact
In Missouri, educational choice often involves students leaving a community to attend a quality school, but it is the reverse for Académie Lafayette in Kansas City, Missouri. According to Académie board member and realtor Pam Anderson Gard, the popular French immersion school has helped to revitalize the community surrounding its Oak Campus.
Académie Lafayette is a charter school, which serves grades K-8. The school’s language immersion program differs from traditional second-language instruction in that students both communicate and learn in French from the very first day of kindergarten.
The Oak Campus building was previously a French magnet school called Ecole Longan, closed by Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) in 2011. “There were several different groups interested in purchasing the [building], but the neighborhood supported Académie Lafayette because they wanted it to remain a school,” said Gard.
Development Director Sarah Guthrie added, “It was a more run-down neighborhood, and certainly now it’s being revived.”
Since the charter opened, developers have also moved into the neighborhood, including Kansas City Sustainable Development Partners, which purchased another closed building from KCPS. Still, Gard feels Académie Lafayette has had the largest impact, “If there are problems, somebody has to come in and fix them, and Académie Lafayette took care of this one.”
Wanting to maintain a high level of diversity among students, the charter draws in students from all socio-economic backgrounds. The map below shows the distribution of Académie Lafayette students across the city by family income category. The school reports that a few families have even moved from out of state in order to participate in the charter’s lottery. There’s no guarantee students will be admitted. In fact, out of the 200-plus students who apply only 60 are accepted each year. It’s clear that Académie Lafayette has a high demand.
Proposed legislation will make it easier for charters like Académie Lafayette to buy abandoned school buildings. Since abandoned buildings can cause a community further harm (increasing drug and gang activity, etc.), this legislation potentially could have a positive impact on urban neighborhoods.
Of Académie Lafayette’s experience buying an abandoned building, Gard said, “It was a closed school, and now it’s full of kids and laughter.”