Experimental school opens in Durham

James Johnson Jr.
James Johnson Jr.

DURHAM, N.C. – Union Independent School’s new $10 million facility opened Aug. 19 to 74 children from some of Durham’s poorest neighborhoods.

The school, located in economically-depressed Northeast-Central Durham, aims to prepare disadvantaged kids for college through rigorous academic instruction and extended school days.

The school is based on the Durham Scholars Program, started by the late Frank Hawkins Kenan and James Johnson Jr., director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The scholars program, based out of Union Baptist Church in Durham, provides afternoon, weekend and summer programming for inner-city kids, led by college honors students.

The new school features a student-teacher ratio of 12 to one, and the board-certified teachers blend the North Carolina Standard Course of Study with additional instruction on topics including health and wellness, entrepreneurialism, financial literacy and character education.

After-school programming includes activities like fine arts, fitness and mentoring.

The new building, financed with $2 million from Union Baptist Church and a $10 million loan, totals 49,000 square feet, features state-of-the-art technology, and eventually will house students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

The school will be a “laboratory school” that will test new ideas and methods in education, with students chosen for enrollment through a lottery system.

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