New Century Success with At-Risk

The results are in, and two Camelot Excel Academies in Philadelphia have increased math and reading test scores.

From the data collected from the 2011–2012 academic school year, the average student at Excel Academy North raised his or her math grade level by 4.1 years. Generally, 77 percent of students rose by two grade levels. Reading scores also jumped with the average student gaining 3.6 grade levels and 71 percent of students improving by at least two grade levels.

At Excel Academy South, the average student increased their math score by 2.5 grade levels, and their reading score increased 2.4 grade levels.

Camelot vice president for education, Milton Alexander, has worked with alternative education in Philadelphia since 1999. Alexander has been with the Camelot schools since May 2005 as a teacher, instructional leader, assistant principal and executive director. He said that the structure of Camelot schools helps to close the academic gap.

“We are on the one hand blown away by these results, but we also see the evolution in these kids every day,” Alexander said. “They come to us with tremendous untapped potential and we provide a climate that allows them to find it.”

Camelot’s academies concentrate on the needs of high school students who are termed “near dropout students.” Despite their entering grade level, students learn from the School District of Philadelphia curriculum and are able to complete four years of high school credit in two and a half years.

Alexander said there are several goals for the Excel Academies in the 2012–2013 school year.

“To graduate 95 percent of our students — to see at least 90 percent of those grads move on to post-secondary endeavors [are our goals],” Alexander said. “To see all students enrolled at least 120 days gaining at least two grade levels in reading and math, and at least 85 percent of our kids involved in student government and enrichment activities, [too].”

According to Alexander, the method of peer accountability in the student government helps to encourage students’ success. Unlike most student governments, Camelot Excel Academies have a four-level rating system. Level one is a neutral zone. In level two, students must demonstrate a commitment in school attendance and civic engagement in order to proceed to the level three. While students are in level three, they take a pledge to be active members in the school. Finally, in level four, students receive privileges to wear a different color uniform shirt and to meet with leadership weekly to discuss school improvements. Movement in student government is based on grades and conduct, too.

At the 2011 commencement, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, Michael Vick, was the guest speaker. Alexander said that this was the most memorable experience at Camelot.

“Many of our students related to Mike and he told a humbling story of redemption. The kids helped select him and that recognized their leadership in making the decision.”

There are other academies in Camden, New Jersey, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.