Former Boise school for parenting teens gets approved as a charter

Soon-to-be graduate Sonia Aleman picks up her daughter, 10-month-old Estella, after eating breakfast at Marian Pritchett High School in 2019. Sami Edge/Idaho Education News

A public school for pregnant and parenting teens, formerly the Booth Marian Pritchett school in the Boise School District, is scheduled to open as a public charter school in 2021.

The school, now called Cardinal Academy, was approved by the Idaho Public Charter Commission last week, providing it meets an enrollment quota and other conditions imposed by the commission.

The Marian Pritchett school operated for decades as a partnership between the Boise School District and the Salvation Army’s Boise Corps. The partners announced they were splitting up last year after the school relocated and declining enrollment prompted staff cuts and a switch to online classes.

Boise wanted to transition the parenting teens to its Frank Church alternative high school, where it planned to establish a daycare and offer access to electives and career technical programs that the district said it couldn’t offer at the smaller Marian Pritchett school. The Salvation Army and some long-time Marian Pritchett staff struck out to establish a charter.

School leaders Emily Bergstrom and Deborah Hedden-Nicely were accepted as members of the 2020 New School Fellowship Cohort by charter school incubator Bluum. And according to the charter’s proposal, it was promised more than $230,000 in grant money from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.

Cardinal Academy plans to teach between 60 and 140 teens — parenting or soon-to-be parenting mothers and fathers — at its location in the Salvation Army’s West Boise Campus.

In order to open in September of 2021, it has to have at least 50 of those students lined up by May. Charter commission staff questioned the school’s enrollment targets in a review of the charter petition, saying it was “unclear whether the school will be able to recruit enough students to be financially viable in the long run.” The school had only 18 students during its last year with the Boise School District.

Emily Bergstrom, the school’s executive director, argues Cardinal Academy has a large teen population to draw from. She cited data from the Center for Disease control which shows Ada County has an annual average of 81 new mothers, ages 15-19, who give birth without attaining a high school diploma. The school also plans to serve teen fathers, can serve students up to age 21 and can take students from outside of Ada County.

One-month-old Orlando Bran sleeps in the arms of his mother, Anika Tam, who graduated from Marian Pritchett school in 2019. Sami Edge/Idaho EdNews

Cardinal Academy will offer wrap-around supports for pregnant and parenting teens, including child care services, a food pantry, parenting classes and access to medical appointments and mental health counseling on site. The charter will have a year-round schedule, teach in-person classes and provide access to AP, dual credit and career technical electives like business education.

“Really it’s about addressing the unique needs of expecting parents,” Bergstrom said. “We believe that the students can feel safe and part of a community if they have their own program.”

As for the new name, Bergstrom said Cardinal Academy is a nod to the cardinal directions.

Bergstrom worked for a decade at Marian Pritchett, which served young mothers from all walks of life. Despite their varied circumstances, students often enrolled with a shared feeling that their lives had gone off course.

“It’s like: ‘oh my gosh, now I’m a teenager, I’m going to have a baby, all of my plans are up in the air  now and I kind of don’t know what direction my life is going in,” Bergstrom said. “Cardinal Academy is really about helping students get back on a path that is good for their growing families.”

Cardinal Academy will open for enrollment in  January. Find more information on the school website.

(Full disclosure: Idaho EdNews is also supported by grant funding from the J.A. and  Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation.)  

Sami Edge

Sami Edge

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