At-risk students attend Durham private school for free

Posted December 10, 2009 7:30 a.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2009 10:51 a.m. EST

— Family income should not determine a child's destiny. That's the premise behind Union Independent School, a new private school that opened this year in Durham.

Many of its students come from some of the poorest neighborhoods.

“We think we can take some of the kids most at-risk and make them some of the best and brightest,” said Rev. Kenneth Hammond with Union Baptist Church.

Thanks to private donations and contributions, including $2 million from Union Baptist Church, the school has 74 students in kindergarten through second grade. The students are chosen by lottery and attend for free.

“Many times you have kids that live in these communities and they’re very bright, and yet, they just need the extra support and challenge,” Hammond said.

Many of the school’s students come from Northeast Central Durham – an area of high crime and gang activity. The median income is $18,000.

It would cost $11,000 for the students to attend Union Independent. They have state-of-the-art computers, certified teachers and follow the North Carolina course of study. The school day starts at 7:45 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m.

“It gives us an opportunity to address not only core academic areas, but also look at entrepreneur education, character development (and) the arts,” Hammond said.

Union Independent leaders said they hope to test new ideas to inspire urban youth.

“We know if we put the right strategies in place that we will make sure each one of these children will grow,” said teacher Agatha Brown.

Union Independent School plans to be a K through 8 school, adding a new incoming class each year. It will have all grades by 2015.