Positive Tomorrows school officials consider how to expand programs once new school building opens
With work underway on the school's new building, officials at an Oklahoma City elementary school for homeless children are figuring out how to expand programs to include more students.
Officials at Positive Tomorrows hope to move into the school's new building in the fall. When the new building opens, it will give the school enough space for about three times as many students as it can currently enroll.
Susan Agel, the school's principal, said that additional space will be a huge benefit for the school. But it also presents a challenge: Once the school has enough space for more students, it will need to find the money to hire faculty and staff to work with them.
The school's current building once served as an education building for a nearby church. When Agel came to the school 10 years ago, she knew the building wasn't adequate. The school has no gym or library, and there's only enough classroom space for about 74 students, she said. The school turns away about 100 students a year because of space, she said.
“We just can’t add any more classrooms or any more kids," she said. "It’s just not big enough.”
Hunt for funding
The new school will include space for up to 210 students, Agel said. Soon after the new building opens, Agel hopes to add an early Head Start program for students from birth to age 3. Eventually, she hopes to split classes in which two grades are combined and add grades 6-8.
But the pace of those changes will depend on how quickly the school can secure sustainable funding, she said. For each class it adds, the school needs to hire a teacher, an aide and a case manager, she said. Those three positions combined cost about $120,000 per year.
Positive Tomorrows, a nonprofit private school, is funded entirely from private donations. But officials are also seeking other funding sources.
One potential source is the Lindsay Nicole Henry Scholarship Program, which offers school vouchers to disabled students. A bill in the Oklahoma Legislature would expand that program to offer vouchers to homeless students who are enrolled in schools specifically designated for homeless children. Senate Bill 901 advanced out of the Senate Education Committee last month.
Meanwhile, construction continues on the school building. Gary Armbruster, the architect for the project, said the design includes elements suggested by students at the school.
'Their little space'
About two years ago, before his team began drawing up plans for the school, Armbruster visited the school's current building and asked students to draw pictures of what they'd like to see included in the design.
One student drew water fountains. Another drew a button that would call police if an intruder came into the building.
A third, a young boy named Kenneth, sketched out a detailed floor plan for the new school. His plan accounted for how students would enter and exit the building, Armbruster said, and it included rooms that opened out onto a large, central common area — an element architects had already talked about including in the design.
"I was amazed," Armbruster said.
Armbruster said the school will include features not typically seen in an elementary school building, such as a small food lab near the school cafeteria where families can learn how to cook together and a donation closet where students can pick up clothes, shoes and toiletries. It also includes spaces where students can spend time with their friends, Armbruster said. Several students requested those rooms, Armbruster said, because homeless students often don't have such spaces anywhere else.
Agel said one of the school's most important features is also one of its simplest: large cubbies where students can curl up and read a book, do homework or anything else. Personal spaces are important for many students who come from homelessness, Agel said, because it's something they often don't have anywhere else in their lives.
“This is kind of their little space," she said.