Challenge Charter School in Far Rockaway celebrates first graduating class with CUNY early college credits

challenge charter school
Challenge Charter School in Far Rockaway saw its first cohort of high school students graduate from the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies.
Photo courtesy of Challenge Charter School

Challenge Charter School in Far Rockaway celebrated its first cohort of graduates from the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies since the two academic institutions began a partnership in 2022 to offer college courses for adult learners and high school students.

Sixteen graduates joined CUNY SLU’s graduation ceremony at the New York Public Library’s flagship location on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan on May 29.

Challenge Charter School in Far Rockaway. Photo courtesy of CUNY SLU

When Challenge Charter School Founder and CEO Rev. Dr. Les Mullings announced the partnership in October 2021, the Far Rockaway community was one of the most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and its residents struggled toward economic recovery due to a chronically high unemployment rate.

“Three years ago, we announced our dream of bringing college to Far Rockaway, and now we are seeing the first fruits of our partnership with CUNY SLU,” Dr. Mullings said. “We are so proud of our scholars.”

Far Rockaway high school students and adult learners were able to take CUNY college courses right in the heart of the community at Challenge Charter School. Photo courtesy of CUNY SLU

Challenge Charter School Scholars took four dual-credit courses (fulfilling high school and college credits), including English Comp I and II, and two college electives, Health Disparities and Statistics, over four semesters. All classes are on-site at Challenge Charter High School in Far Rockaway during the school day to align with existing school schedules and are taught by CUNY SLU faculty. Additional instructors were available to aid scholars with their college-level coursework and writing, as well as staff to help Far Rockaway families with college prep
information, such as understanding the FAFSA application for federal aid.

“This unique collaboration has been pivotal in fulfilling CUNY SLU’s mission of providing access to education at every level,” CUNY SLU Chief Academic Officer Gladys Palma de Schrynemakers said. “Higher education opportunities have been limited within the Far Rockaway community, making it paramount for us to bring these educational resources directly to the area. By doing so, we’re able to foster a connection between CUNY and the Far Rockaway community, empowering students to achieve their academic and professional goals without leaving their community.”

The graduating cohort was proud to be part of the program.

“Participating in the CUNY SLU Early College gave me a taste of college before actually experiencing it,” Challenge Charter School student Rachel Ajayi said.

Her classmate Alona Williams reflected on the experience. “Participation in the Early College program allowed me to not only gain free credits but get a sense of independent study,” she said.

Students received several perks, including access to any campus in the CUNY system, the use of all university libraries, workforce development services and mental health services. Students receive an undergraduate certificate in the Urban Experience from CUNY SLU, and credits earned through the program are transferable to any CUNY, SUNY or other school for students who go on to complete an associate or bachelor’s degree.

“We are eager to see more of our students and local adult learners benefit from college courses being offered right here at home,” Mullings said.

Challenge Charter School’s second CUNY SLU cohort recently began their coursework.