Brookstone Schools aims to grow

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — At Brookstone Schools, where 87 percent of the 105 students qualify for free or reduced lunch, many of the students also are performing well above grade level in reading and math.

Serving low-income kids from throughout Charlotte, the Christian school is part of a broader effort to boost academic performance at underperforming schools in low-income West Charlotte.

Growing steadily since it was founded in 2001, Brookstone Schools now has moved into a larger building and added a summer program, and is considering a campaign to raise capital and endowment funds to help it add two more grades and possibly a residential program.

Founded with 18 children in kindergarten and first grade, Brookstone Schools has added additional grades as it recruited new students, including a sixth grade this school year.

The school operates with an annual budget of $740,000 and 13 employees working full-time and four working part-time, and generates seven percent of its funds from student tuition and fees.

Contributions from individuals account for 48 percent of its funding, along with 39 percent from foundations, 8 percent from corporations, and 5 percent in church support.

That funding includes $2,500 sponsorships from individuals and organizations to support each of 88 students for a year.

Brookstone Schools also received a big boost from Carolina School for Children, a 10-year effort to create a faith-based residential school for children in need modeled on the Milton Hershey School in Pennsylvania.

Last year, however, the organizers opted to contributed to Brookstone Schools the roughly $250,000 they had raised.

That gift could serve as seed funding for a campaign to raise endowment and capital funds to support expansion, says Suzanne Wilson, director of development.

And at its annual fundraising dinner March 22, Brookstone Schools raised over $98,000, giving it a big boost to match a $125,000 dollar-for-dollar challenge grant from the Leon Levine Foundation, which offered a challenge grant for the third straight year.

While planning for a campaign still is in the early stages, Wilson says, the goal could range from $4 million to $5 million.

After spending its first 10 years in space leased from a series of churches, the school in December moved into the Amay James Pre-K Center, which had been a public school but was closed by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Located in the Reid Park neighborhood, the school is near the Stratford-Richardson YMCA in a region that is the focus of Project L.I.F.T., an effort supported by a coalition of foundations that supports nine elementary and middle schools that feed into West Charlotte High School.

The region also is the focus of the Reid Park Collaborative Initiative, a partnership of Mecklenburg County, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Council for Children’s Rights and other human-services agencies that provide support services for students and families of Reid Park Academy, a public high school adjacent to Brookstone Schools.

Partners who support students in Brookstone Schools participate in special events throughout the school year when they can spend time with students in hands-on activities and tutoring in the classroom.

And nearly every child has an adult “lunch buddy” who eats lunch with them at least twice a month.

With its building, which it is leasing for five years from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the school also is considering subletting some of that space to a group that serves the neighborhood.

Brookstone Schools last year launched a six-week summer program that drew roughly 50 new and existing students, and it plans to continue the program this summer, expecting about 80 students.

All the efforts seem to be working: In general, Wilson says, 35 percent of Brookstone students taking the Stanford Achievement Test are scoring among the top 25 percent of U.S. students in math and reading.

“Our goal,” Wilson says, “is to equip students to get a taste early on for academic success.”

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