A couple of Antioch Middle School teachers seeking to open a charter school focused on teaching math and science to African-American boys (but open to all boys) received praise from Antioch Unified School District Board members last week.
Karla Branch and Lawrence Rasheed made an impressive presentation for their proposed RAAMP Charter Academy of Mathematics and Science. RAAMP stands for Reaching African-American Males' Potential, which is the name of the student group that Rasheed mentors at his school.
The board room at the recent meeting was packed with charter school supporters, many of whom spoke after Branch and Rasheed's slide presentation.
Branch pointed out that the achievement gap is huge for minority populations. In AUSD schools, 60 percent of whites are proficient in English compared to only 29 percent of African-Americans and 27 percent of Latinos. In math, 53 percent of whites are proficient compared to only 30 percent of Latinos and 24 percent of African-Americans. At the same time, the United States lags far behind other industrialized countries in math (25th) and science (21st) education.
Their proposed charter school is designed to engage our minority students into math and science, said Branch.
They plan to make it a K through ninth-grade school to provide an extra year of study that includes biology and geometry.
We feel they need that extra year in an environment where they can focus on academics and not worry about the pressures of high school and not getting behind in credits, said Branch. So when we release them back into the comprehensive high schools, they will be on track and ready to excel through graduation and hopefully onto college.
We want to get those deemed at risk for failure, the ones who are removed for behavior sometimes because they are simply boys. Also sometimes there's a very good reason why the student doesn't go to college. If that's the case, we have to make them workforce ready. We want them ready to at least do meaningful work.
Rasheed said that the learning will be more hands-on than in a regular classroom and the all-boys environment will allow the students to drop what Rasheed called the mask of masculinity that we need to be macho, super macho."
In this environment, males become more gentlemen. They are more chivalrous; they respect women more so in this environment. In addition, they don't have the distraction of a young lady (in the classroom).
Another innovation is that the students will stay with the same teacher for two or three years at a time. For some of these young men, consistency is the huge missing piece of their life, said Branch. If we can give it to them in the academic setting, they will gain a comfort level and be able to engage in the learning.
Many people spoke in favor of the school, including City Councilman Reggie Moore.
This is something I think we have needed in this community for a very long time, he said. I see this as the next natural step in providing more choice and opportunity in our community to enhance the quality of life for all students in this district. I can see where this charter school would be a great fit for the types of things this council is trying to achieve in this community.
The school board members were also impressed. Claire Smith said that she loves the uniforms that are planned for the new school: kindergarten through first-grade students wear T-shirts; grades two through four wear polo shirts, grades five through seven wear Oxford shirts; and grades eight and nine wear a dress shirt and tie. Smith said it makes sense to separate boys from girls in schooling because they learn differently.
Board member Teri Lynn Shaw said that attending an all-girls high school helped her focus on her studies. I'm very proud to see this here in Antioch tonight, she said. There's an epidemic on the rise. The child is failing. It's scary; it's really scary. Blessings to you for your dedication. I commend you on your effort and tenacity.
Board member Gary Agopian said he's very impressed with the presentation. He was concerned, however, about how special-education students will be funded at the charter school, given that there is currently inadequate funding for them in district schools.
Also he wants to make sure the school welcomes boys of all backgrounds. That's very important. It's for all students. I applaud the fact that you will make the effort to make sure we are attracting students of all backgrounds to the school.
Board President Walter Ruehlig was also impressed by the thorough presentation and the academic professionalism of the school's board of directors, several of whom have doctorates in education. But he shared Agopian's concern that the school be inclusive of all groups and was concerned that naming the school RAAMP, which specifies African-American in its name, might give the wrong impression.
I did have some concern and have received some e-mail about the need for diversity, said Ruehlig. Some did express dismay, thinking it was going to be limited to African-American males. I was very delighted to see the picture of the students in RAAMP; there are a number of Latinos in that picture. I hope we do make every effort (to reach out).
When the Antioch Charter Academy came before us, we encouraged them to do more about their diversification; they have made an effort to outreach more.
I was a bit surprised about the name. I'm sure you have a good reason why you are using RAAMP. That might make some people think that I'm not welcome.' (But) that doesn't seem to have stopped people at Antioch Middle School from joining the club.
With that, Ruehlig banged his gavel to close the public hearing. The charter school application will be scrutinized by AUSD administrators and a lawyer to make sure it meets the requirements of the state education code. It's scheduled to be voted on by the board on Nov. 12.
For more information go online to www.raamp.com.