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Jul 4, 2010 3:22 PM by Chris Welty

Old Bank to Come Back as Charter School Site

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - An old Regions Bank branch in downtown
Baton Rouge in two weeks will reopen as a high school, the
Mentorship Academy.
"We have two or three people coming in each week wanting to
start a bank account," said Kelley McCormick, communications
coordinator for the new charter school.
The academy is scheduled to open for students July 12 and will
have its grand opening ceremony on July 8. It's an unusually early
midsummer opening most local public schools aren't starting the
2011-12 school year for another month but that's par for the course
for a school that touts itself as a place that doesn't follow the
normal rules.
"We want to renovate education," said Mentorship Academy
Executive Director Brian Dixon. "We think it needs to change
soon."
The multistory office building is in the midst of an
re-imagining. A drive-through bank teller section is going to be a
cafeteria. The bank's vault is turning into a recording studio.
Looking outside, there's a covered parking lot, but Dixon says
the plan is to convert it to a playground.
"We're so excited about this building because it was the only
one (downtown) that had outdoor space," said Dixon.
The Mentorship Academy is actually two schools in one. One part
will focus on digital animation, while the other will focus on
science and technology.
Dixon moved to Baton Rouge from San Diego where he worked as an
administrator at High Tech High. He's bringing with him that
school's adaptive attitude toward technology.
So rather than desktop or traditional laptops, students will use
netbooks, which Dixon says cost much less than the alternatives.
Teachers will use iPads. Also, the students will work on the open
source Ubuntu operating system, he said.
Since the Mentorship Academy was approved in December by the
East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, Dixon and his small staff
have recruited 250 students for the incoming ninth grade. In the
future, the school hopes to attract students from school districts
outside of East Baton Rouge Parish, but has yet to establish
agreements with those districts.
By fall 2013, the school plans to have 1,000 students half in
each school. Before fall 2012, the Mentorship Academy will have to
find a second downtown campus on which to operate.
On the fourth and fifth floors of the current campus, workers
have been taking out walls and turning offices into classrooms and
workspaces. The fourth floor will focus more on digital animation,
and the fifth floor will focus more on science and technology.
Wherever you go, Dixon has a story of what you will see soon. A
wall is going to be a green screen. A small out-of-the-way room is
a space where students can collaborate on projects.
The school plans to use downtown Baton Rouge as a kind of
campus. By their junior year, students are to have internships with
downtown businesses.
This is not the first time a charter school has tried to take
root downtown. The East Baton Rouge Arts & Technology School, from
2001 to 2006, tried to do a lot of what the Mentorship Academy is
attempting. The school, however, never was able to fulfill the
goals of its founders and ended up closing due to financial
problems and lukewarm-to-hostile relationships with downtown
business people.
Dixon and company are trying to strike a balance. The students
will still have less freedom than those at EBRATS had. So students
are going to the downtown YMCA for physical education, but not on
their own.
"Students will never leave class without adult chaperones,"
Dixon said.
To get students ready, the new school held a short summer
orientation earlier this month, Dixon said. The school has also
been reaching out to its new parents, he said.
"Our parents are relieved and heartened that we really listen
to them and they're not used to that," Dixon said.

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