EMPIRE — Most children are soaking up the last days of summer break — sleeping in, playing video games, hanging out at skate parks, watching movies or spending time at the mall.
But Travis Ralph, along with a few hundred other kids, spent Saturday getting to know his new school — Aspire College Preparatory Academy.
Travis and his classmates didn't spend the day behind desks but joined their parents at an orientation for the new charter school, which starts classes Monday.
"I think Saturday school is pretty good. It allows us to get to know the school," said Travis, an eighth-grader.
Aspire College Prep is home to more than 200 students in grades six through nine. A grade will be added each year until the campus serves sixth- through 12th-graders.
After its charter application was rejected by Modesto City Schools and the Stanislaus County Office Education, the school won approval at the state level.
Aspire officials are using parts of Teel Middle School, which Empire Union School District officials shut earlier this year to help close a budget gap. The campus has new coats of beige, purple and yellow paint to match the school's colors.
Saturday started with a pep rally. Families then toured the school, met teachers and learned about uniforms and other requirements. Students signed up for clubs and took class photos.
Most of Aspire College Prep's students are coming from Aspire's other area charter schools — University Charter in Modesto and Summit Charter in Ceres — that do not have middle school or high school grades.
Parents were required to come Saturday. Parent involvement is a core part of Aspire's philosophy, as with many charter schools.
Charters are public schools that get similar funding from the state, take the same state tests, teach to the same academic standards but have less red tape and tend to have more parent and teacher involvement in decision making.
Angie de Morgan said she prefers Aspire's high level of parent involvement.
"I'm not one of those parents that ships their kids to school and expects the school to get my kids ready for college," said de Morgan, whose sons have been going to Aspire schools for a few years.
Aspire College Prep's openness to parents and the small school leads to a stronger sense of community than other schools can achieve, said Janet Ralph, Travis' mom.
"It's very welcoming, very nurturing," she said. "I like the small school. The students are not just a face, and I think that's a big thing for kids."
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339.