Harding Charter Preparatory High School (HCP) takes students of all economic and academic backgrounds and requires all its students to take at least five advanced placement (AP) courses during students’ four years at the school.
HCP is a tuition-free, publicly funded, privately run school enrolling roughly 480 students, of which about 30 percent are white, 30 percent African-American, and 24 percent Hispanic. Approximately 10 percent of the students have Individualized Educational Plans (a program of learning developed for special-needs students), and 51 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
HCP students are granted admission to the school by lottery.
The Washington Post ranked HCP the “most challenging high school in Oklahoma” in 2016. HCP ranked number 148 nationally out of 2,391 public and private schools on the Post’s annual list, which takes into account the number of AP, International Baccalaureate, and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given at a school each year, in relation to the number of graduates.
‘We Don’t Select Our Students’
HCP Principal Mylo Miller says his school’s greatest accomplishment is its ability to serve students of all backgrounds.
“I’m a big fan of the ranking,” Miller said. “The Washington Post is very reputable. And the thing we’re most proud of here is that we’re an open-access AP school. We don’t select our students.”
Miller says the goal of gaining 100 percent college matriculation is challenging because the students have wildly varying learning abilities.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” Miller said. “Some students come into ninth grade at a third grade reading level. We get kids from just about every middle school in the city, so for one reason or another, some students will be behind in grade level. Every public school faces that challenge, either through family or educational malpractice.”
‘We Do Not Lower Standards’
Michael Lewchuk, an HCP pre-AP Algebra II instructor, says all students are expected to take rigorous courses.
“We do not lower expectations for any student on campus,” Lewchuk said. “If you are in this school, you will be challenged, and the expectation is that every student will rise to that challenge.”
Lewchuk says HCP faculty members are not encouraged to take on additional, extracurricular school activities, which ultimately benefits the kids.
“This philosophy has left me free most mornings and evenings to work one-on-one with students who want or need extra help,” Lewchuk said. “As a result, far fewer students fall behind at Harding.”
Miller says working directly with students is a big aspect of the HCP environment.
“I spend more time sitting down with kids,” Miller said. “Our challenge is keeping kids, not getting rid of kids. We extend the hours for after-school programs and stay open two Saturdays a month. We have to create the opportunity [for students to succeed], so we have to have the doors open to create that opportunity.”
Readying Seniors for Graduation
HCP requires students to take a “capstone course” during the seventh hour of the school day. During this time, teachers help students fill out college applications and scholarship forms, and students listen to college recruiting presentations. Each student must apply to at least four colleges, including Oklahoma Community College. Students also must complete a six-week job-shadowing project.
Miller says the capstone courses pay off.
“Our senior class will earn $3 million or more a year through a variety of scholarships,” Miller said. “We’ve had a couple of students enter the military, but usually 100 percent of the student population matriculates into college. One-hundred percent for sure are accepted to colleges. We’ve had some students go on to pretty prestigious colleges like MIT, Yale, and USC.”
Lewchuk says HCP’s model is focused on rewarding students’ determination.
“There is no model that guarantees success for every student, but at least at Harding, if you’re willing to work and you seek out the help that is always available, then you will succeed at this school,” Lewchuk said.
Jenni White ([email protected]) writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.