An African-centered success story
Test scores exceed state averages at J.S. Chick elementary school, where African-American students view themselves as leaders.
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One recent example of how Chick has reversed the oft-cited achievement gap between white and black students: On the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) fourth-grade math test in 2005, 48 percent of Chick students scored at the proficient or advanced level. Statewide, only 24 percent of black students and 36 percent of white students scored that high.Skip to next paragraph
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In 1995, the judge overseeing the desegregation case, impressed by Chick's success, agreed with a proposal to implement the African model at another elementary school, Sanford B. Ladd. Ladd went on to be recognized as one of the most improved schools in the state.
A middle school also took on the African theme several years ago, but its leadership has been in flux and it hasn't made strong achievement gains. Bullard says he believes those changes will come on the coattails of improvements in teaching and student behavior, which are under way. All three schools follow state and district curriculum standards.
Bullard and the community-based African Centered Education Task Force recently proposed a new school that would run from Grades 6 to 12, with an "early college" approach for the high school grades. A vote by the school board is expected in the next few months.
As Bullard walks through the schools, he greets teachers and parents with a hug and a call of Jambo, Swahili for "hello."
At the African-centered Clarke middle school, he shares office space with Terri Brown, cultural arts instructor for the three schools. Students take one to three classes a week in African drumming and dance, but more important, cultural arts are integrated throughout the curriculum, she says. A recent focus on dances from the Harlem Renaissance (think Lindy Hop and swing) used a timeline to explore historical events and even to prompt math exercises. As someone who has studied in Africa and under American dance greats such as the late Katherine Dunham, Ms. Brown sums up one of the school's philosophies this way: "The arts are academics."
In a computer class, African-American eighth-grader Dwayne Hathaway says he likes Clarke because "the teachers urge us on to do better in school." His classmate, sixth-grader Lucky Bui, an Asian-American who attended Chick elementary school, smiles and nods when asked if he, too, enjoys the school. "Everybody in the school makes sure everybody fits in," says Dwayne, casting a brotherly look Lucky's way.
• The first part of this series, a look at Baltimore County, Md., schools, ran April 30.
"I knew I could be anything I wanted to be," says Elisha Talbert, recalling the consistent messages from home, church, and school when she was a girl.
At J.S. Chick, an African- centered elementary school in Kansas City, Mo., Ms. Talbert immersed herself in accelerated reading and opportunities for public speaking. She sees those two skills as foundational to her success as she prepares to start medical school this fall.
At Chick, "I was able to get a perspective from my own culture, from people who have gone to Africa and studied African-American history.... I really had a lot of loyalty and understanding of who I was," she says in a phone interview.
By contrast, some of her friends at Xavier University of Louisiana - a historically black college she attended in New Orleans - had grown up in predominantly white schools. Because they didn't learn much about African-American history, "they felt almost cheated," she says.
Talbert also credits Chick with turning her into an active voter and someone who understands "the importance of giving back to your community after you excel in your endeavors." On her return to Kansas City for medical school, she hopes to visit city schools to inspire young students.
When Talbert hears concerns that African-centered schools might promote discrimination, she counters them with her own experience: "My best friend is from India.... Knowing who you are ... you have so much more to bring to the table when you communicate with people from different cultures."