This feature is part of the National Alliance's 2021 Back to School Month campaign.
Cardinal Academy Public Charter School in Boise, Idaho will open on September 13, 2021, to grades 9-12. This high school will help pregnant and parenting students up to age 21 navigate and finish school in a supportive learning environment.
The National Alliance had the pleasure of speaking with Emily Bergstrom, the school’s co-founder and executive director, to learn more.
What led you to open a charter school?
Boise had a high school for pregnant and parenting students for a very long time. In 2020, the district decided to go in a different direction, but we felt there was still a need.
While teen pregnancy is down nationally, that doesn't change the fact that there are still young parents out there and that their needs are unique to those of other "alternative school" students. Providing a safe, small community for these students with all of the wraparound services available on campus is crucial to their success. Plus, they get to be with other young parents who understand the joys and struggles of young parenthood.
We spend a lot of time working with teachers to ensure their classrooms and teaching methods come from a trauma-informed and resiliency-informed foundation. My co-founder, Deb Hedden-Nicely, and I were fortunate enough to be Bluum fellows and were able to learn the charter process inside and out. We wouldn't be in this position right now without the support and expertise of Bluum.
What makes Cardinal Academy unique?
Besides serving pregnant and parenting teens and young adults, we are unique in the services we provide. All of these services are a result of the community partnerships we hold. Our most important partner is The Salvation Army Boise Corps. Besides leasing our building space from them, which is a brand new, state of the art educational facility, they provide our students with two meals a day, on-site childcare, an incentive store, social work case management, pregnancy and parenting education, and life skills education.
We also partner with Family Medicine Residency of Idaho for our on-site pre-and post-natal medical clinic, the Children's Home Society for our on-site counseling clinic, and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) clinic through the state of Idaho for their well-baby clinic.
There are many other partnerships we cherish, such as those with Boise State University, College of Western Idaho, TRiO Educational Opportunity Center, and others. Academics are crucial, but only one part of the puzzle for our students. We recognize that our students need to be able to nurture all of the different aspects of themselves to find the success they are seeking.
What are your plans to incorporate student voice into your school?
The very foundation of our school is relationships. The key pieces of any good relationship are trust and communication. Trauma-informed schools are flexible. They allow for student choice—both in the classroom and in setting overarching educational goals. They focus on strengths and a partnership between teacher and learner.
We only exist to serve students and if we aren't listening to them, we are doing something wrong. In my 20 years of experience, students will always tell you what they need. All you have to do is listen.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about your charter school?
We are really grateful to be doing this work. It's hard. And pulling this off on the timeline we set for ourselves is borderline insane. But when the students and their children show up this fall, it will all be worth it.
We are investing in two generations of young people. Our community believes in this mission. We are so grateful to them. And we can't wait to open our doors.
Brittnee Exum is the manager of communications and marketing at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Learn more about Cardinal Acacdemy Public Charter School in Boise, Idaho.