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Revival of DeLaSalle charter school extends beyond its walls

Updated: 2013-10-15T18:56:07Z

By MARÁ ROSE WILLIAMS

The Kansas City Star

A year ago, the student-run printing press at DeLaSalle Charter High School was tucked away in a basement corner. Now, the shop is prominently located in front of the school, and Pat Lantz, the teacher in charge of the press program, can’t stop smiling about having the newly constructed space.

In fact, a lot of the people — students, faculty and staff — are smiling a lot more since the school’s $8 million renovation and expansion was completed this fall.

The new neutral-colored facade is more modern than the red brick one that the school had since it it was incorporated in 1971. The last time any building improvements were done was 1991.

“It’s wonderful outside and fabulous inside” is how spokeswoman Brenda Gray described the school at 3737 Troost Ave.

Besides the new press space, the school boasts a spacious new lobby named for Charles and Elizabeth Schellhorn. Spaces throughout the building are named for donors, including the Mabee Foundation Walking Trail next to the parking lot and the Kirk Family Courtyard, which is visible from the lobby.

Part of the the 18,000 square feet of additional space and renovations was planned to “be flexible and allow us space to grow,” Gray said.

With enrollment at 260 students, DeLaSalle serves students in ninth through 12th grades. It expects to reach its 300-student capacity soon.

When students returned to school this fall they found a new library/media center with 5,000 additional books and greater Internet access. New science rooms double as conference rooms. Community groups can use a new multipurpose area as meeting space.

“Part of being a good neighbor is creating space that your neighbors can use,” said Mark Williamson, the school’s executive director.

DeLaSalle also sports a new child care area that is designed to help students who become parents stay in school and graduate. It offers child development and parenting pointers to the students. The child care center stays open beyond school hours so it can also serve children of working parents in the community.

DeLaSalle students are teens who had fallen behind in traditional classroom settings. The school features what Williamson called the “wax on, wax off model,” inspired by the movie “The Karate Kid.” It is an experimental learning process in which teens learn through doing, like in the student-run press.

“Students here in the press are learning to meet our clients’ needs not to get it done when you want but when they need it.” Lantz said. “They are learning what’s important and that if you start something, finish it.”

To help those students over the social or emotional hurdles that could distract them from school, DeLaSalle provides an array of counselors and social workers who occupy renovated offices on the third floor.

“Over the years, we had taken office space and converted it to classrooms,” Williamson said. “Now, since we have new classroom space, we have just reclaimed that office space.”

The school also is deploying new classroom technology and online software to boost its academic work, he said.

Funding for the construction and renovation project, called “The DeLaSalle Impact,” came from a capital campaign launched in 2008 and completed in 2010. Two of the largest donors were the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation, which provided a $1 million challenge grant, and the Hall Family Foundation, which donated $1 million.

Two-thirds of the funding came from philanthropic foundations. Fifteen percent came from individual donations, 13 percent from businesses and 5 percent from government funding. DeLaSalle also received $5 million through the New Markets Tax Credit program, which is designed to help redevelop blighted areas.

DeLaSalle’s new look is expected to instill more pride in its students but also in the surrounding community. School officials and community leaders envision the expanded school as a linchpin for efforts to revitalize the area along Troost Avenue in Kansas City’s Squier Park neighborhood.

The school will hold a ribbon cutting and open house community celebration beginning at 4 p.m. Wednesday, including tours of the new areas.

To reach Mará Rose Williams, call 816-234-4419 or send email to mdwilliams@kcstar.com.

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