Lehigh Valley Academy, on Valley Center Parkway in Hanover Township, Northampton County, serves students from 18 school districts around the Valley. Students are enrolled by participating in our annual lottery. Our population now includes more than 1,000 students in classes of no more than 25 students. All teachers, teacher aides, specialists, substitute teachers and principals are certified by Pennsylvania and work at a high level of professionalism to provide a high-quality program.
What differentiates charter schools from traditional school systems is what makes each one unique. By definition charters have to provide programs that are not offered elsewhere, thereby giving families a choice of where their child should attend. Lehigh Valley Academy has high expectations for its students, parents and teachers that are not often embraced in traditional schools.
The International Baccalaureate curriculum emphasizes that we create lifelong learners who will be comfortable anywhere in the world because we emphasize many character traits. We encourage students to be well-balanced, caring, reflective, tolerant, risk-taking (outside the proverbial box) individuals who ask questions and relish the search for their answers. Parents pledge to be involved with their children’s education through volunteer efforts at the school, and the board of trustees, administration, staff and educators focus on the success of every child.
All students learn a second language (either Mandarin Chinese, Spanish or French). They must adhere to a strict dress code, start school two weeks before the rest of the districts and attend almost an hour more each day, while the faculty works for 20 more days than in most other school districts. We know that hard work produces positive results, so we all strive for excellence. For example, there are weekly specialist classes at the elementary school in physical education, art, drama and music, and cutting-edge technology is embraced.
Lehigh Valley Academy comprises dedicated, highly trained education professionals who all go the extra mile for the students. We are a school that runs in a spirit of cooperation between employees and volunteers alike, and negotiate with the administration and board without being part of a union. We earn less than teachers in surrounding districts, but also have a merit pay system that rewards excellence in a variety of domains. We are given great latitude in curriculum planning, identifying and obtaining resources, and integrating core values across many subjects.
Do we have all the extracurricular activities that traditional systems have? We have after-school activities (yearbook, student council, Science Club, Scholastic Club, etc.), and have a few athletic club teams. We are not the right fit for all students. We set the bar high and expect great effort from our students, parents and each other. We do this with only 80 percent of the funds provided to traditional schools.
There are a new set of laws and regulations being proposed at the state level, some of which aim to make changes critical to the way we and the home systems are reimbursed (for instance, we now are paid by each district, rather than directly from the state). Hopefully, the future will continue to have the best interests of students, and not disrupt charter schools that are fulfilling their mission for the community.
Larry Lang, a resident of Bethlehem, is in his ninth year of teaching fifth grade at Lehigh Valley Academy Regional Charter School in Hanover Township, Northampton County.