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Non-dropouts accepted by Role Models

December 07, 2000

Non-dropouts accepted by Role Models



By SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer

see also: Lawmakers unaware of Role Models' actions

Role Models Academy's enrollment of students who are not dropouts despite the school's stated aim of helping high school dropouts conflicts with language in the grant documents submitted to the U.S. Labor Department, an agency spokesman said Wednesday.

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The Labor Department has no plans to take action on that discrepancy, however, said Ira Sockowitz, with the public affairs office of the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration division.

Following a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the academy at PenMar Monday, the academy's founder and president, Robert Alexander, said the program includes not only dropouts, but students "seriously at risk of dropping out."

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"Notwithstanding his pronouncements, the terms of the grants are that they be dropouts," Sockowitz said Wednesday.

If Role Models Academy wants to continue enrolling students who have not dropped out of school, its administrators need to talk to Labor Department personnel about modifying the terms of the $10 million grant, he said.

Agency officials earlier this week concluded the school's enrollment of students who had not dropped out of school was not a grant violation, Sockowitz said.

Sockowitz said Role Models is a relatively new grant recipient, and the Labor Department will continue to work closely with the organization.

The stated goal of Role Models Academy officials is eventually to have 535 students. The enrollment structure would be similar to that of military academies, with the 435 U.S. representatives and 100 U.S. senators each appointing one student to the academy.

Role Models officials sent a written response to a request for clarification:

"Role Models will continue to aggressively pursue the Congressional Nominee Program in accordance with guidelines set forth in the DOL grant documents, brochure and as stated on the Internet Web site. RMA will continue to work closely with the DOL and both grantor and grantee reaffirm a willingness and a desire to work closely together to make this demonstration model a success for the nation's 6 million out-of-school youth."

Role Models, in a brochure and on its Internet site, is described as a school for dropouts. It lists dropping out as an eligibility requirement.

When asked Monday if the academy would work toward enrolling only dropouts, Alexander gave no indication such action was planned.

Phone calls Thursday asking for further clarification were not returned.

Among the grant documents is an executive summary for the academy proposal that states: "The overall objective of this project is to establish a residential academy for out-of-school youth, which may serve as a model for such other academies across the United States."

It also states that part of Role Models' mission is to: "Identify, recruit and select at-risk and disenfranchised students, who have previously withdrawn from organized education, but who have the aptitude, potential and strong desire to complete their secondary education and go on to either college or a rewarding vocational career."

When Role Models hand-picked five students for reporters to interview Monday, four of the five said they were not dropouts. One of the four was home-schooled, whom Alexander said could be considered a dropout.

Later Alexander confirmed that some students were not dropouts. In those cases the academy asked for letters from their high school counselors before they were admitted, Alexander said.

The school has not released requested information on what percentage of the students are dropouts.

There are now 50 students, with another 50 to start around Jan. 5, Role Models officials said.

A Labor Department spokesman said the school has just one 2-year grant for $10 million, but Alexander has said he believes the amount promised is $20 million.

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