Charter schools do not receive facilities funding to build new schools and raising the millions of dollars needed to construct a new school building was just not possible.
The solution came when the Newark Charter School Fund worked to include People's Prep in the Newark Public Schools shared campus plan earlier this year.
Now the school shares space in a building at 321 Bergen Street, which is also home to Bridges High School and Bard High School Early College. People's Prep has 95 students in ninth grade, while Bridges has 200 between ninth and 12th grade and Bard has 122 freshman and juniors, who are also first year college students.
"Sharing the campus benefits all of the students from all of the schools," said Rooney, the founder and school leader of People's Prep. "By indentifying and utilizing previously under-used space, three schools now have their own classrooms and access to a gym and cafeteria. Without the shared campus initiative, this would not be possible."
Many Newark schools have several underutilized classrooms, while growing schools are at capacity. When two or more schools share one campus, not only does it provide adequate workspace for students, but provides a unique culture conducive to learning, Rooney said.
Rooney has a lot of experience with shared campuses, having worked as a teacher in lower Manhattan and an administrator at Bronx Lab High School, which is one of six schools on the campus.
She feels if they can make it work with six schools, there is no reason why they cannot make it work with three, she says.
Prior to becoming School Leader of People's Prep, Rooney was a Founder in Residence at the Newark Charter School Fund. During her time there, the Fund was instrumental in helping her to get the school up and running.
"The staff at the Fund helped by writing, researching, making connections, and once we were accepted by the state, they helped us recruit students, hire teachers , secure a facility, and helped with board leadership and organization," said Rooney. "Once we were open, they helped us unpack boxes, hang things up, served the kids lunches and helped us organize. They were with us the whole way from the high level policy level to the nitty gritty stuff."
People's Prep is on the first floor of the building and is shaped like a large "L." Blue lines down the hallway mark that you are travelling the corridors of People's Prep. When you turn the corner and walk through an invisible barrier, you are now in Bard High School Early College Newark. Each school staggers their class times so that only their students are in the hallway at one time.
"Personally, I don't mind sharing the building with the other schools. It's different for us and it's a new experience," said Kashief Walker, a 14-year-old student at People's Prep.
When asked about the best part of their school, the students answer unanimously: The teachers.
"Since I came to People's Prep my grades have been straight A's and B's. The teachers don't make anything seem too hard. The teachers explain everything and work one-on-one with students to make sure everyone understands what they were taught, " said Walker.
At the end of the class period students are given an "exit ticket," a small assignment they must complete before they are allowed to leave the class. This shows whether or not the students learned the material and also whether or not the teacher's lesson was effective.
Nathan Patton, an English teacher of 7 years, engages the students in a writing assignment by playing a short video. Homer Simpson appears on the screen and is attempting to write a book. After a few moments of struggling, Homer says, "Oh.....Oh......writing is hard!"
Patton agrees with Homer saying that writing is hard but explains to the students why it is worthwhile, before instructing the students on story structure for a five-paragraph persuasive essay. Patton has worked in six different schools, including shared campuses.
"Our shared campus has been working so well because it is such a large building," he said. "We haven't had problems with students between the schools and we have more than enough room for the amount of students we have."
While BRIDGES was founded during the 1997-1998 school year, People's Prep and Bard both opened in September 2011. Since their establishment at the beginning of this school year, the three principals hold a weekly Building Council meeting to discuss topics such as scheduled fire drills, staff, visitors, events, conferences and schedules for final exams.
"The purpose of these meetings are to keep up with the comings and goings of our shared space," said Rooney, the school leader. "In addition to business, we also talk about student issues and how each school handles it. It also gives us the opportunity to discuss best practices and a chance for collegiality."
Students of separate schools do not interact at all during a regular school day, but remain curious about pupils from their neighboring school. To promote interaction between the schools Bard has invited students to join their after school clubs.
Now going into their sixth months together, the three schools have faced only minor problems.
"Sometimes students float into the other spaces, we call this 'wrong place, wrong time,'" Rooney said. "They are mostly just curious to see the other schools. We tell them we would be happy to give them a guided tour, but sometimes they want the thrill of going over there on their own."
The challenges they face are more of a matter of physical space and not necessarily between teachers and students, Rooney said. She feels the benefits heavily outweigh the challenges.
"For years, charter school founders have struggled to find adequate facilities, often spending large sums of their budget for rent instead of classroom instruction," said Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund. "From an educational, equity, and financial perspective, there is no reason why these under-utilized spaces should not be made available for promising new public school programs, including charter schools."