Students and staff at the Durham Performance Learning Center were surprised this morning when they got a special visit from Bill and Melinda Gates.
The pair visited the alternative school as part of a Gates Foundation tour of 1,000 schools nationwide that were identified for their innovative programs.
The Durham Performing Learning Center serves around 120 Durham students who had dropped out or were at risk for dropping out. The center's small class size and online curriculum have generated attention for allowing students to work at their own pace to achieve their academic goals - including graduation.
The Gates' met with administrators and observed classrooms in action before pulling out about 10 students for a private conversation about what was - and wasn't - working within their schools.
"They wanted to get a firsthand conversation with the kids," said Bud Lavery, director of Communities in Schools of Durham, the organization which sponsors the Performance Learning Center in partnership with Durham Public Schools.
While a site visit from Gates Foundation representatives was scheduled, only a handful of people knew that Bill and Melinda Gates themselves would also be visiting the school.
“I think it says a lot about the magic that is happening at this school that Bill and Melinda Gates chose to see it firsthand," Lavery said.
The Gates Foundation has been funding the replication of many of the Performance Learning Centers and other alternatives models of education throughout the United States.