Prisons are full of people who had trouble in school. Many spent time at an alternative school. The idea, as criminal defense lawyers know as much as anyone, is that those who attend the alternative school stay out of prison.
Emerson Alternative School is one such school. Part of the Oklahoma City School District, offers day care for the girls’ babies and serves young men who are at risk. Built in 1894, the school will be one of the District’s last schools renovated in the MAPS for kids program
The school suffers from a number of problems. Conditions are cramped and seriously need renovation. The walls are so thin between math and language arts classes that one sitting in one class can hear both lectures. Two portable buildings at Emerson were damaged in the Murrah Building bombing 15 years ago. They have leaking ceilings and no temperature control.
When voters approved the MAPS for Kids bond issue assessing a ½ cent tax, $1.8 million was scheduled for renovations to Emerson Alternative School. On further consideration, officials decided Emerson needed more. Now, $3.5 million worth of improvements are projected for the school, including a new building addition of 17,500 square feet.
Soon the School Board will vote on whether to increase the budget by transferring money from unallocated MAPS for Kids funds assigned to “alternative schools” to Emerson School. Construction of the improvements to Emerson are scheduled to begin in the spring of 2011.
About 7,600 babies were born to teen mothers in Oklahoma in 2007, the sixth birth rate in the nation. There are scores of teen mothers in Oklahoma public schools, and 115 of them attend Emerson. If a teen mother has support at home from a family member who can baby sit or the teen mother can afford day care, she can continue her education attending the regular schools. But for those who do not have such advantages, the teen mother must attend a school like Emerson or just drop out of school. Emerson offers mothers support that includes day care on-site and social workers.
Emerson also provides a second chance to male and female students who have been kicked out of other schools or are academically far behind. The two distinct missions are co-located at Emerson but operated independently from each other.
Emerson is located in Midtown, now enjoying a revival. Emerson has partnered with St. Anthony’s Hospital, which itself has invested $200 million in Midtown redevelopment since 2003. The hospital hopes to reinstitute the health clinic at Emerson, which lost funding in 2009.