INDIANAPOLIS — Some Indiana University professors have proposed a novel way to give struggling inner-city students a fresh start: send them to boarding school in Africa. The project is still in its planning phase, and its backers admit it faces legal and financial hurdles. But the professors want to establish a school in the West African nation of Ghana where Indiana teachers would instruct some of the state’s poorest children.
“The core idea is to pull kids out of an environment where they cannot thrive and put them in one where they can,” said law professor Kevin Brown, who leads the group behind the idea.
Backers would have to raise $4 million in donations to build the school, but the $10,000 or so the state pays urban districts for a student’s education each year would cover the classes, room, board and travel, said Brown, who teaches at the university’s Bloomington campus.
Issues such as student safety and legal liability must still be addressed. But a similar project launched in the 1990s by the Abell Foundation and the Baltimore public school system in Kenya operated for seven years until being shut down amid fears of terrorist attacks on Americans after 9/11.
Brown and his group hope to persuade an urban Indiana school district to back the project or for the Indiana Department of Education to sponsor it directly.
“It’s going to be a hard sell,” Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Eugene White told The Indianapolis Star. “IPS would be interested in participating, but it’s prohibitive in a lot of ways for us. The legal liability is just too great for me to consider that.”
The founding group includes professors of law, business, psychology, marketing and education and all are offering their time to work through any issues.
They chose Ghana because it is among the most stable countries in the region, with a history of peaceful transitions of power and a large community of American expatriates. Indiana University also runs summer programs for students in the country.
Parents of Baltimore students were very receptive to the idea of the Kenyan school in the 1990s, said John Walsh, who was a member of the school’s board.
“It was often the case that an observer would say, ‘Why so far away, and why to Africa?’” he said. “That was not a question their parents would ask. They would say, ‘Wow, that’s exciting.’ ”
That school had most of its students graduate or received GEDs, which would have been unlikely for them back home. The board of the Baraka School still hopes to reopen it at some point, and Walsh said the model makes sense for other cities to replicate.
“For at-risk kids that are living in neighborhoods where there are drugs and violence,” he said, “it’s a no-brainer for me.”