By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Grays Ferry Charter School kicked off its first day of school Tuesday with an extra $2.7 million dollars in its coffers over the next three years — thanks to a federal school improvement grant designed to help transform education through innovation.

The plan to transform Universal Audenried Charter High School began last year when the school launched three pilot career academies in STEM, arts, entertainment and communications and in hospitality and human services. The millions means the programs can be embedded in school curriculum.

“There is a huge disparity between the opportunities that they have in a lower Merion…versus what they have in Philadelphia,” says Reginald Johnson, principal of Audenried. He started his tenure this summer as part of the “transformation,” which includes a new leadership team, innovative curriculum and more.

“Our goal is to make sure when our scholars leave here, they can be successful in college or in a career,” he says.

The grant money, which was administered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, will help boost programs in auto mechanics, culinary arts, construction, and much more. Technology instructor Dan Martinez just got a new a green screen in his classroom to support a student-run online television station called, “REID TV.”

“We’re planning to have a group of students that are sort of a news crew,” he says, “we’ll assign them stories and have them do pieces around the school.”

The grant money will also support the school’s community health center and social services for students and their families.

“This is really a community investment,” says Penny Nixon, a VP with Universal Companies, “we’ll be able to provide services for our families around housing, around health care, around workforce development, and adult education.”

Last year, Audenried boasted a graduation rate in excess of 90 percent. Nixon says that is a major turnaround from the school’s low of 30 percent less than a decade ago, when the school was known as “the prison on the hill.”

“Although we were doing pretty well, [the school] needed complete transformation,” she says on why Audenried applied for the grant, “we believe Audenreid can be the best high school in Philadelphia but we need the resources. These grant funds mean we’ll have the equipment, people and technology to make these programs successful.”

Audenried was one of nine schools in Pennsylvania– and five in Philadelphia– to share in $21 million in education grants awarded statewide.

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