With a touch of autumn in the air, our local newspapers and blogsites are abuzz about school openings throughout the Trenton area, perhaps most notably the new and beautiful Trenton Central High School. It’s a fabulous place for learning that everyone should see for themselves.
But wait – there are other great schools in Trenton that are starting classes these days too, perhaps most notably the Foundation Collegiate Academy (High School) – a charter school that itself has a new structure on its front and a renovated classroom structure behind it and an athletic complex nearby. It’s colorful, modern front façade is located on the corner of Cass and Adeline Streets. The older part of the school dates from 1919, when it was a school run by the adjacent Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church.
The parent organization, Foundation Academies, was founded in 2007 as a middle school (6-8), expanded in 2011 to include the High School, added an intermediate component (3-5) in 2013 and finally a K-2 primary school in 2014. These schools are located in two campus areas in Trenton: the High School at Cass and Adeline and the others at 363 West State Street. Foundation Academies now has a total enrollment of some 1,100 students. And 315 of them are now in the new FCA High School. In all, Foundation Academies is a highly-regarded charter school, with over 1,000 applicants on its waiting list.
A recent visit to the school was, well, educational. Students in casual but attractive uniforms were very focused on the very challenging material presented by very dedicated teachers. New classroom equipment and large sunny windows gave a visual lift and a sense of importance to every classroom. “Enjoyable seriousness” is a phrase that comes to mind.
One classroom, however, was located in the basement. It was a heavily-used music practice room, one of a few. The FCA High School requires every student to study and play one string instrument during grades 9, 10 and 11, typically 3 days each week. Based upon the well-developed El Sistema model of secondary education enhancement (see Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, Venezuela), the “Strings Program” helps students to discern small variations and precision, to work as a team, and to coordinate data with physical execution (among other good things).
Foundation Academies was founded by a group of committed Trenton charter-school advocates, now led by CEO Graig Weiss, whose office is located at its headquarters at 363 West State Street, along with the elementary and middle schools. Mr. Weiss is passionate about education, period. Although he is quite proud of the success Foundation Academies, he believes “It’s not about public charter schools versus traditional district public schools. For me, it’s about quality education to provide our kids the opportunities they deserve.” Indeed, for the last six years, every single graduate of Foundation Collegiate Academy High School has been accepted by a good college.
Like any exceptional school, there’s more than exceptional academics at the Foundation Academies schools. From its mission statement regarding its students, “… and to instill in them the core values of caring, respect, responsibility and honesty”.