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Idaho New School Fellows Emily and Deb cut the ribbon at Cardinal Academy

School is a Family Affair for these Idaho New School Fellows

Cardinal Academy supports pregnant and parenting teens to finish high school

by Lindsay Trombly

Pregnant and parenting teens will arrive for their first day of high school at Cardinal Academy, Boise, Idaho, on Sept. 13. In tow will be their little ones, as Cardinal Academy offers childcare just downstairs from classrooms. This is just one of many of the benefits Cardinal Academy offers to empower these young adults to be lifelong learners.

Cardinal Academy has partnered with The Salvation Army Boise Corps and The Booth Young Parent Program to create an environment for students where they feel safe. Students will have access to parenting resources, judgement-free support, and learning opportunities to prepare them for college or career.

“They can come to a one-stop shop to receive not only their high school diploma, but they have a great support system through teachers and through the leadership of Cardinal Academy. And of course, with our case management, social worker and our program itself, it’s just a life-long opportunity for them to realize they are safe, and it’s non-judgmental,” The Salvation Army Boise Corp’s Major Kimberly Stambaugh said. “They are able to come and just be them. And be able to build the foundation of parenthood and education.”

The Booth Program for Young Parents is celebrating 100 years of service to their community this September. One of their services was the Booth-Marian Pritchett school, through the Boise School District, where Idaho New School Fellows Emily Bergstrom and Deb Hedden-Nicely found their passion for educating students who were also young parents.

When the school was in the beginning phases, Hedden-Nicely knew she wanted to continue supporting young parents in earning their high-school diploma, and she knew she couldn’t start Cardinal Academy alone.

Idaho New School Fellows Emily Bergstrom and Deb Hedden-Nicely hug at Cardinal Academy's Ribbon Cutting.
Idaho New School Fellows Emily Bergstrom and Deb Hedden-Nicely hug at Cardinal Academy’s Ribbon Cutting.

She had worked alongside Bergstrom in the Marian Pritchett school and admired her commitment and creativity in serving students. She said she knew they would complement each other with their knowledge and skills. The pair were invited to participate in Bluum’s Idaho New School Fellowship, and through the year-long process worked to create Cardinal Academy.

The Idaho New School Fellowship is a highly-selective, paid one or two year experience for fellows to transform education for Idaho’s neediest students. Fellows are passionate about improving the lives of children, so Bergstrom and Hedden-Nicely were the perfect fit.

Hedden-Nicely said the fellowship has been an “experience of a lifetime,” and they have learned so much about starting a school.

“The fellowship was fantastic. I cannot say enough about Bluum, the organization, and this support,” Hedden-Nicely said. “In my educational journey, I learned so much from that. In this one year we have packed in what feels like three years of what we’d learn at a university.”

Through the hard work and dedication of now Executive Director Bergstrom and Director of Academics Hedden-Nicely, Cardinal Academy is prepared to serve a population of students needing a little extra support. And they’re not alone as the journey continues. Bergstrom said their relationship with The Salvation Army is stronger than ever, and it’s almost like a renewed commitment. With the charter school model, Bergstrom said they are able to have “the freedom and the ability” to be creative and the ability to actually make it happen on their own terms, an example of which is expanding to serving teen dads too.

“We were really on a good path of constant improving and making it better. I just feels like over the last five years, we are really starting to understand the needs of students in a new way that maybe we didn’t have access to,” Bergstrom said. “This school is everything we’ve dreamed of; it just came about in a very different way than we envisioned it to be. It has grown into something even better than we could’ve imagined.”

While Bluum and The Salvation Army have been instrumental in getting Cardinal Academy off the ground, it’s partners like the J. A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation and other community leaders around the Treasure Valley that together enable us to collectively deliver high-performing school choice.

Cardinal Academy has also received $376,085.00 in federal grant funding through Idaho’s Communities of Excellence Charter School Program Grant to create 120 new seats for students. Bergstrom and Hedden-Nicely said the grant has given them the ability to prepare for students sooner. One way they’ve been able to prepare has been hiring their staff quicker.

“With our students it’s very important we are ready for them. And I mean physically, emotionally, spiritually. They can’t walk in here and find we don’t have our act together. That’s not okay,” Bergstrom said. “It’s true for our students who are unsure about school in general – they have to do this, and we have to be ready.”

Bergstrom said creating the school “feels like it was just meant to be.” She said she is ready to watch students walk into the school, take a deep breath and realize what they’ve accomplished. She said she thinks the first day of school will be pretty emotional.

“We just need them to know they are safe when they come here. That we are happy to see them, and that we notice when they’re gone.” Bergstrom said.

We’re honored to be on this journey with Cardinal Academy and look forward to seeing the student growth made possible by visionary leaders like Bergstrom and Hedden-Nicely and the values-driven culture that is Cardinal Academy.

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