Though a city in size and scope, Wilmington has community spirit that gives it a small-town feeling, and that feeling pulses through its educational venues. Schools help each other by lending facilities, faculty or student tutors. Arts institutions open their doors to broaden learning. Parents walk from work to school to have lunch with their children. And retired professionals share their experiences so that others may enjoy learning for life.
Wilmington’s educational offerings are as diverse as its people. In addition to fine public and private schools, there is a stimulating mix of alternatives, from charter schools for creatively or scientifically gifted youth, to an art college, to technical colleges and continuing education for older adults—all within two square miles. For students of all ages, the city is their campus. And for some, the city is their canvas.
Delaware Technical & Community College
333 Shipley St., Wilmington, 571-5300
At Delaware Technical & Community College some of the youngest Wilmingtonians are getting a jump on their educations at the Child Development Center. At the center, the children of DelTech faculty, staff, and students are cared for and taught by early childhood education students, who benefit from experiential learning as they prepare for their careers. The center is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. It accommodates children from three months old through preschool.
Delaware Tech also has a wide array of summer camp programs for grade-school kids, including a “CSI” Camp taught by forensics officers from the Wilmington Police Department.
“During the summer you’ll hear kids say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to college’ because they’re here on campus,” says Steve Martelli of DelTech. “It’s cool because they really get the connection between being here to learn and ‘going to college.’ It plants that seed.”
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Elementary Workshop Montessori School
502 N. Pine St., Wilmington, 656-1498
For parents of children ages 2½ through students in sixth grade who like an intimate learning environment, Elementary Workshop Montessori School is a wonderful option. With an enrollment of about 70 students, it is the only Montessori school in the city—and one that remains ethnically and economically diverse. “It’s an important part of who we are,” says director B. McCrea Harrison.
What looks like play in a Montessori classroom is work to the students. Hands-on learning is a key component of the Montessori approach. Students are enrolled in multi-age classrooms (grades one through three and four through six are combined) and given the freedom to choose the work they’d like to do.
Founded in 1971, Elementary Workshop is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools and the American Montessori Society. And it stands on the same city block where it began. It’s convenient for parents to have lunch with their children or put co-op hours in after work.
“Our kids really benefit from what’s available to them in the city,” says Harrison. “We walk up to the history museum, the Wilmington Library and activities in Rodney Square.” Students take swimming lessons at the Walnut Street YMCA, the Wilmington Music School provides a music program, and the four- and five-year-olds take dance classes at The Baby Grand each week.
Elementary Workshop’s vision is to develop lifelong learners who are self-directed, confident in an ever-changing world, creative in addressing challenges, armed with knowledge and problem-solving skills, caring toward others, and who honor their roles as world citizens. Most of all, says Harrison, “We want them to love learning.”
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Prestige Academy Charter School
3707 N. Market St., Wilmington, 762-3240
At the new Prestige Academy Charter School, students are working hard to achieve some steep academic goals.
Prestige is a tuition-free college preparatory middle school for boys from minority and low-income families. Its rigorous academic program is aimed at addressing poor performance and low college matriculation rates among boys from distressed communities.
Getting the school started was a grassroots process.
“We advertised 108 seats, we filled 102 of those seats, and every one of them was hard work,” says Jack Perry, Prestige Academy’s founder and executive director. Perry met personally with every applicant and parent. Three meetings were required to stress the commitment both parents and children would make.
“Research from high performing urban schools similar to ours tells us that if you are able to implement best practices, a rigorous curriculum, and a no-excuse approach to discipline and behavior, you can catch kids up in two years and move them to grade level and above,” says Perry.
“Our kids are here from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., so they’re really putting a lot of time in. When other kids are home eating their snacks, our kids are still here doing work. For some it’s difficult. Our job is to help them see the connection between hard work and results.”
Prestige serves only fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders, and will add an eighth grade by 2012. Maximum enrollment will be 400.
“After eighth grade, the goal is to have our students go on to other great public schools or private and parochial schools, if possible,” says Perry. “Of course, one of the schools they could go to is the Charter School of Wilmington, the best public school in the state.”
Some of the Prestige students have already begun forming relationships with Charter students through a tutoring partnership between the two schools. Each Monday, 25 juniors and seniors from Charter tutor Prestige boys one-on-one, to help bring them up to academic speed. It’s time tutors and students look forward to.
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Charter School of Wilmington
100 N. DuPont Road, Wilmington, 651-2727
The Charter School of Wilmington ranked number 41 on U.S. News & World Report’s list of America’s Best High Schools in 2008. In its 12 years, Charter has been the top-scoring high school in Delaware for math and reading for 10 years, writing for nine, and science and social studies for eight. Charter has also produced the highest average SAT scores in Delaware’s public high schools for the past 10 years.
Charter has been an independently operated public school since 1996. Its curriculum focuses on mathematics and science. The school is sponsored by a consortium of six local corporations, including DuPont, Christiana Care Health System, Delmarva Power, AstraZeneca and Verizon. It accommodates about 960 students in grades nine through 12 and offers 225 courses each semester. More than 20 of them are academic prep courses. Additional college-level courses are taught by University of Delaware professors. Ninety-eight percent of Charter students go on to higher education.
Cab Calloway School of the Arts
100 N. DuPont Road, Wilmington, 651-2700
Part of the beauty of the Cab Calloway School of the Arts is its connection, literally, to the Charter School of Wilmington. The two institutions are housed in the same building, making it easy for students to take advantage of opportunities at both. Cab Calloway is a public magnet school that specializes in performing arts, but it’s also strong on academics, so when a Cab student needs an AP math or science class, he or she can take it at Charter.
One hundred percent of the 833 students attend Cab through the public school choice system, but not all who apply are accepted. As at the Charter School, demand is high, so there are more applicants than spaces.
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Kuumba Academy Charter School
519 N. Market St., Wilmington, 472-6450
Kuumba Academy Charter School is another special place where the bar is set high and students rise to meet it. Last year it surpassed state targets in all academic areas of the Delaware Student Testing Program. “We’re very clear and focused on what we want for our children and about what we have to do to push ourselves to the next level,” says Dr. Sondra Shippen, head of school.
Kuumba is an arts-based elementary school for at-risk children, most of whom live in Wilmington. Ninety-nine percent of its 238 students are African American. Serving students from kindergarten though sixth grade, it’s the only arts-based elementary school in Delaware. Its proximity to cultural institutions in downtown broadens the students’ educational experiences.
“We put Kuumba here, right in the heart of the city, right next door to significant resources—the Delaware History Museum, the Grand, and the Christina Cultural Arts Center—so that our children can take advantage of all of those things,” Shippen says.
Kuumba receives wonderful support from volunteers in the community who tutor their students. Some of those tutors need only walk across the street to help. They come from the Delaware College of Art & Design.
Among other significant contributions to the city, DCAD students tutor at Kuumba Academy Charter School and Christina Cultural Arts Center. DCAD receives hundreds of requests for community service, whether design work for non-profit organizations or help with a public mural.
The value DCAD brings to the Wilmington community became apparent as soon as it was founded a dozen years ago, for it was the first art and design college in the state of Delaware. Founded as a partnership with Pratt Institute and Corcoran College of Art and Design, DCAD is midway between its partners in New York and Washington, D.C., which helps to draw students from across the Mid-Atlantic region.
DCAD is a two-year professional art and design school at Sixth and Market streets with a diverse student population and an enrollment of 225 full-time degree students. DCAD has more than 1,000 continuing education students.
With DCAD in Wilmington, students have an opportunity to come to a small city that has a big city feel, which is sometimes a more comfortable environment for an 18-year-old who may not be ready for New York.
Wilmington offers tremendous creative opportunities for the students, who can be seen painting, sketching and taking photographs all over town.
Some students were recently given a tour of the soon-to-be-restored Queen Theater and told to redesign it. Results were hung for the annual student exhibition. Such access and reward makes projects meaningful to the students.
Though many DCAD grads go on to get their bachelors of fine arts from Pratt, Corcoran or another similar school, many return to Wilmington to begin their careers. The city becomes their canvas.
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Delaware Technical & Community College
333 Shipley St., Wilmington, 571-5300
Delaware Tech is another a two-year college that often sends graduates on to four-year degree programs, many in connection with the University of Delaware. Degree programs at the Wilmington campus include early childhood education, dental hygiene, business, computer information systems and various health technologies.
“We’re really about providing access, opportunity, excellence and hope to the community by making quality higher education to folks who are underserved or may not otherwise be able to go to college,” Martelli says.
University of Delaware
2600 Pennsylvania Ave., Wilmington, 573-4500
UD Downtown Center
Eighth and King Streets, Wilmington, 571-5239
Academy of Lifelong Learning
Arsht Hall, 2700 Pennsylvania Ave., Wilmington, 573-4447
The university offers continuing education courses for credit at its campus on Pennsylvania Avenue, and it offers non-credit professional and continuing studies at UD Downtown Center at Eighth and King streets.
“(UD Downtown Center) has had a presence in Wilmington for 10 years, now,” says manager Lisa McInnis, “which really shows the university’s commitment to the community by offering classes to people who want to continue honing their skills and reinventing themselves through our continuing studies certificate programs.”
By day you’ll find freshman and sophomores in the associates of the arts program. By evening, classrooms fill with adults in certificate courses from Project Management to Business Communications.
The center has partnered with more than 50 organizations over the past decade to provide employees with customized training. Businesses have included ING, Wilmington Trust, WSFS, the State of Delaware and AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Retirees from some of those companies can be found sharing their years of professional and personal experiences through developing and teaching college-level, non-credit courses to their contemporaries at the Academy of Lifelong Learning. Established by the university in 1980, the academy offers people age 50 and older intellectual and creative challenges in a vibrant, socially active environment. It is one of the country’s oldest and largest programs of its kind, with more than 2,000 members and over 200 instructors.
The program adapts to the interests of members and the expertise of volunteer instructors. Offerings often include classes in foreign languages, history, literature, science, mathematics, and government and society. Popular computer courses help senior students learn to use such applications as Facebook, which helps them engage with their grandchildren. Courses in the arts are also popular, and there are many social and cultural activities that include local, regional and overseas travel.
“People are wildly enthusiastic about this place and the joy and energy it brings to their lives” says Basil Maas, university coordinator for the academy. “Imagine seeing a 94-year-old yoga instructor running through the lobby—and I had to tell him to slow down!”
Classes, held weekly, are offered fall and spring. The annual fee is $380, and need-based financial aid is available. Summer membership is separate.
“We have people who come in on their 50th birthday to sign up, others who are well into their 90s, and some who have been members of the academy since it began in 1980,” says Maas. “Most schools have an end point for their students called graduation, but here there is no end to the learning. We invite people to explore new academic and creative pursuits indefinitely. People are living longer lives. We help to keep it interesting.”