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Drew Senior Academy: Completing the ‘Cradle to College’ Quest

By D. Aileen Dodd Contributing Writer | 8/9/2013, 6 a.m.
Chelsea Cole, a seventh grader at Charles Drew Charter School, is being groomed for graduation in a program that supports ...
The construction of a high school will complete the Drew campus, which opened in 2000 during the $103 million renewal of the East Lake district.

Chelsea Cole, a seventh grader at Charles Drew Charter School, is being groomed for graduation in a program that supports learning from the cradle to college.

Last week, she started the new academic year with a school-issued laptop, a choice of electives like harp lessons and engineering, and a plan for a successful future. Cole is among 1,200 PreK-9th grade students in Drew’s scholastic pipeline that will have the option to continue their studies in a state-of-the-art building now under construction in East Atlanta.

The college prep school will open in July 2014 as a bridge that will ultimately expand Drew Charter’s program to 12th grade.

And Cole, like dozens of her classmates, hopes to be among the first students to earn their diplomas at Drew Senior Academy. The new school will open with high expectations – a goal to achieve a 100 percent graduation rate in a state where 70 percent of teens on average complete high school on time.

“Drew is one of the No. 1 schools in Georgia,” Cole said. “I’m learning a lot here. My teachers are preparing me for college.”

Drew Senior Academy, a $73 million project spearheaded by the East Lake Foundation, is situated in an East Atlanta neighborhood once described by police as a ‘war zone’.

The construction of a high school will complete the Drew campus, which opened in 2000 during the $103 million renewal of the East Lake district. The economic development project transformed East Lake by demolishing the squalid East Lake Meadows housing project and replacing it with mixed-income apartments, an upgraded YMCA and the Drew Charter program

For some Drew students, the educational journey begins at East Lake Sheltering Arms, a day care serving kids from birth to pre-school.

Drew has an academic focus that drives its core classes with content rich in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. But Before Drew Senior Academy was under development, rising freshman would have to leave Drew and scatter across metro Atlanta to attend high school.

“It’s like carrying the ball to the 20-yard line and giving it to a different team,” said Don Doran, Drew’s Head of School.

Drew’s Senior Academy is temporarily housed at Kennedy Middle with Drew’s Junior Academy. Eight-five percent of eighth graders remained at Drew to be among the first freshman students this year. It currently has about 100 ninth graders and will add a grade and 100 more students each year until the inaugural class graduates in 2017.

Drew stresses a ‘broad spectrum’ education, so students learn to play golf, swim, dance and play instruments as well as write research papers and solve quadratic equations.

The new Senior Academy will include a 500-seat performing arts center, and labs for engineering, and design classes as well as science, said Peter McKnight, an administrator and former Atlanta High School teacher named as principal of the Senior Academy.

“The school will be on the cutting edge of project-based learning,” said McKnight.

Drew’s curriculum, a hybrid of textbooks and exploratory learning through technology, helps to prepare kids for college by showing them practical applications for the lessons they learn in class. That strategy will continue at the high school.