A 10-year-old Blaine charter school will be able to take in more high school students who struggled elsewhere or were tired of the traditional public school system.
Paladin Academy, located within Northtown Mall, had about 190 ninth- through 12th-grade students at the end of the 2011-2012 school year. Officials are anticipating enrollment will reach about 225 students this school year once new students enroll after the holiday season, according to the school’s director Leisa Irwin.
Paladin Academy can be a good first chance too, Irwin said, but the students drawn to the school in large part have struggled elsewhere, but not just academically. A couple of students struggled after family members passed away. Some are new parents.
Others were bullied at their last school or got into trouble and were expelled.
“I think it’s the best alternative out there,” said Tokpajay Menday, a senior at Paladin Academy and president of the student council.
Paladin Academy is located near the Becker Furniture World store in Northtown Mall. Its entrance used to be within the mall, but is now from the outside. With a nail salon moving, Paladin Academy is able to knock down walls and expand from 7,800 square feet to just under 15,000 square feet, according to Irwin.
She added that the maximum number of students they would ever have is 250. There are 22 teachers and seven in administration, although three of the administrators do work with students in the classroom part-time.
Computer labs are common in traditional public high schools, but Paladin Academy did not have one since it opened for the 2002-2003 school year. It now has 75 computer workstations and will be adding an additional 50 for a total of 125 desktop computers within the new lab space.
Prior to this school year, students had to eat lunch at their own desks if they were not eating at the mall’s food court. The school still has an open lunch policy so students can go out to eat during their break, but there is now a lunchroom where they can dine on catered in meals that the school pays for.
This is especially handy for Paladin Academy because most of the students qualify for free or reduced price lunch because of personal financial situations.
At one point last year, over 30 percent of the students were homeless, Irwin found out. Some students in a video produced by the school shared how they were sleeping at bus stops, in parking ramps, in people’s garages or on friend’s couches before going to school in the morning. Brandon Wait, assistant director at the school, said some students stay at the Harbor Lights homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis. Although he is thankful they have a roof over their heads for the night, he is concerned about kids being in that environment.
With the entrance moved and the interior layout reconfigured, Irwin said the school took the opportunity to design the building in a way that classrooms could be locked down from the entry of the school in case there is a security risk. Although there have not been huge problems, Irwin said about 30 percent of the students have a criminal history. There may be family issues sometimes such as custody disputes.
Menday is in his third year at the school. After he moved to Minnesota from the East Coast, he briefly went to Coon Rapids High School but was overwhelmed by the size of the school and felt he was not getting the help he needed. He heard about Paladin Academy from a friend and switched schools.
Menday is interested in majoring in political studies and communication when he goes to college. He is aiming high for his career goal. He wants to be president of the United States.
Unfortunately for Menday, he is one of the students who are considered homeless. He is currently coach hopping between different friends’ couches.
This is Elizabeth Holseth’s first year at Paladin Academy. She feels people at the school are more open-minded and accepting than the last school she was at. She left Columbia Heights High School because she was tired of the bullying.
Holseth’s dream is to go to the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
“I believe that my job in this world is to help others, and in a way I want to help heal a person mentally because mental scars are the worst of the worst,” she said.
Carrie Burck is a sophomore at Paladin and in her second year at the school. She was bullied at her last school as well and got into a really bad fight. Her parents were frustrated with the school district and chose to enroll her at Paladin Academy, where her brother had already gone.
Burck is also on the student council, which organized the school’s first prom last year. They held it at the Padelford riverboat in St. Paul. It was open to all students because of the small size of the student body. Considering she helped to organize it, Burck thought it was only fair she would be able to go anyway.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]