ACPA—Empowering a Positive Climate

When I visited Arts and College Preparatory Academy (ACPA) in Columbus, Ohio last month, I expected to see a successful arts charter public high school. What I saw was so much more.

My tour guide was Aman, a senior at ACPA. He randomly introduced me to six students as we toured the school. I asked each of them, “What brought you to ACPA?” Five of six began their response with, “I was bullied at my other school” and began to tell their emotional story. All of them talked about feeling accepted at ACPA for who they were, and how much they loved learning at their school.

ACPA is all about “Empowering a Positive Climate.” And the results show.

ACPA is an Ohio Department of Education School of Excellence, featured on major national broadcast networks. ACPA’s graduation rate is 95.5%, attendance rate is 92.8%, and their academic results exceed state and local counterparts. Its student body is socioeconomically diverse, with students from 20+ school districts.  50% of ACPA students are of color, 55% qualify for free and reduced lunch, and 30% of the student body identified themselves as LGBTQ in a recent survey.

ACPA was founded in 2002 by GG Howard, a visual arts teacher, world traveler, and mother. I was honored to meet GG, who told me that she witnessed the emotional and physical effects of bullying first hand when her daughter entered high school. She was outraged at the treatment her daughter received from peers and the lack of response from school administrators. So she created a place where she believed students would feel safe, loved, and nourished, both creatively and academically.

I saw this acceptance everywhere. Students wore long-flowing garb if they wanted; one young woman wore a leopard sari that she made herself. Some students had green hair. It didn’t matter. They express themselves and they learn.

Students are allowed to express themselves, as long as they commit to the core values of the school:

  • Honest: Students are expected to be trailblazers, to represent the truth through their voices and actions. They are encouraged to be leaders, use their voices and reject passivity.
  • Inclusive: This safe environment celebrates differences!
  • Creative: Artistic expression and innovative thinking from students and staff are celebrated.  Students use artistic abilities to critically solve their educational endeavors.
  • Rigorous: Students are challenged with IB and other preparatory academic curriculum that prepare students for college.

The good news is that APCA is on a mission to share what they created. ACPA is a recipient of a federal USDOE grant for a program called VOICE, which provides methods and strategies for schools to create and sustain an inclusive, diverse and tolerant bully-free environment. Check out Thursday’s blogpost to learn more about “Empowering a Positive Climate” in your school.