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State’s First University-Based Charter School Graduates Inaugural Class

Widener Partnership Charter School Students show their pride -- and their certificates of promotion -- following ceremony.

Parents of Widener Partnership Charter School students beamed proudly as their sons and daughters graduated Thursday from the state’s first university-based charter school, but their pride hid their uncertainty of how to pay for the next phase of their children’s education. Then, Bill O’Brien, executive director of Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools (BLOCS) stepped to the podium and made an announcement that swept away that uncertainty.

O'Brien announced that 25 eighth grade students graduating from Widener Partnership Charter School in Chester, Pa. will receive full four-year scholarships to attend Philadelphia area Catholic high schools. Widener Partnership educates grades kindergarten through eight.

Earlier in the ceremony, Widener University President James T. Harris III announced that all of the graduates would receive $100,000 scholarships to attend Widener for undergraduate study. If the students meet the criteria for admission, they would receive $25,000 per year for four years at Widener.

"Eight years ago, families of these students opted for an alternative to the public schools in Chester," O'Brien said. "Widener Partnership Charter School has prepared its students for success in furthering their education and beyond. Unfortunately, without financial assistance, these families don't have that same option for high school, and the hard work of these students, their parents, and their teachers would then be in vain. The mission of BLOCS is to help families who desire a Catholic education regardless of race, religion or financial means."

The event marked the inaugural graduation of the Widener Partnership Charter School, which educates kindergarten through eighth grades and is the state's first university based charter school. In all, 37 Widener Partnership students graduated Thursday, most of whom started as kindergartners when Widener University opened the school in fall 2006.

Dr. Darlene Davis, principal and CEO of the school, said that most of the families of students attending the school live at or below the federal poverty level, and that attending private or parochial schools would be financially out of the question without BLOCS.

"As the name suggests, this school is built on partnerships," Davis said. "BLOCS and Bill O'Brien are vital partners of the school and stewards of the continued success of our students. Their tremendous generosity truly opens the doors of opportunity for these students."

Harris said that Widener invested in the future of the children of Chester when it opened the school eight years ago, and the $100,000 scholarships continue that investment.

Proud Charter School Family"These students have worked very hard to get to this point today, and they deserve our continued support," Harris said. "The work that BLOCS has done to raise the funds to provide full high school scholarships to our students inspired us to make a similar gesture."

Jada Cottman of Chester, one of two students who spoke on behalf of the class, proclaimed that her classmates will be seen as "world changers."

"Widener Partnership Charter School taught us how to be respectful, responsible for ready to achieve all of our goals and be successful," Cottman said. "I believe we are all ready to take on what the world has to offer." 

Widener Partnership takes a holistic approach to education that emphasizes a low student to teacher ratio, the social and emotional development of each student, a close partnership with parents and caregivers, and the inclusion of music, art, physical and health education and foreign language instruction as integral parts of the curriculum.

Because it is affiliated with Widener University, the school receives a variety of supports from the university including education faculty and students who support and enhance the instruction of classroom teachers, graduate students from social work and clinical psychology who provide a range of services to the children and their families, and the use of university facilities such as the Science Teaching Center and the Art Gallery.

BLOCS is an independent 501(c)(3) charitable organization that believes all children should have access to a high quality education. BLOCS raises funds so financially disadvantaged children can attend Catholic schools throughout the Philadelphia area.

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener is comprised of eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate's, baccalaureate's, master's, and doctoral degrees. The university's campuses in Chester, Exton, and Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., serve some 6,300 students. Widener is proud to be a tobacco-free university. Visit the university website,