More than half of African American elementary students in North Carolina’s public schools failed both their math and reading end-of-grade tests last year (see www.ncreportcard.org for both state and local results).
An October 2012 article in the Asheville Citizen-Times was entitled “Board: Gap in Achievement Beyond Schools.” Can anything be done about this persistent community issue?
There is another educational model achieving a great measure of success with black children in the elementary grades. New City Christian School, which currently serves 58 students in kindergarten through 5th grade, has designed its curriculum specifically for students who may have arrived at kindergarten underprepared.
“The vision of New City is to equip students not only with knowledge, but also with confidence and hope,” says Principal Loretta Woods. “We want our students to understand that they have a purpose in life, that they are loved and valued. We strive to show them they are capable and gifted, image-bearers of our Creator. Our goal is for these children to become community leaders.”
Last year, 100% of students attending New City for at least one prior year were working at or above grade level in both reading and math. Founder Coral Jeffries explains the school’s success. “We have seen schools like ours across the country making a huge difference in the lives of African American children and families.”
Jeffries mentioned several elements that she considered vital. First, curriculum and methodology have been specifically designed for the areas in which these students struggle. “Many of our students arrive at kindergarten already behind. They aren’t often read to regularly, and may not have things explained to them and discussed with them at the same level of detail as certain other children. We work intensively to fill in these knowledge gaps in the early grades.”
New City students also quickly gain confidence in their math skills by working more or less one grade level ahead in math. “Our kindergartners begin with first grade math, and generally are able to stay on that advanced track. Math is not dependent on background vocabulary like the language arts, so the students start on a truly level playing field. They rise to our level of expectation, and at the same time really enjoy learning. They have a lot of fun.”
Small class size is also an important element. Jeffries says, “We keep our classes small so that our teachers know each student well. They know where each one is experiencing success and where each one needs encouragement.”
Another key element is a spiritual framework. “Many of our students have experienced enormous challenges in their short lives. The ability to resolve conflict without violence, to forgive, to choose hope rather than despair, to persevere rather than to give up, to believe that there is a purpose to life and a God who loves them and will never leave them are all ideas that we would like to see firmly planted in each one. We see that spiritual framework as the only way to achieve these goals.”
New City Christian School, though a private school, works in partnership with families from all income levels to make this type of education an option. Principal Woods says, “Almost all of our families would qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch in the public setting. Our school truly is an option for families who would ordinarily never dream of a private education for their child.”
Families do pay tuition, but at a sliding scale determined by family income and household size. The school will add sixth grade in the fall, and continue growing through eighth grade by adding one grade per year over the next three years.
Coral Jeffries says, “These children are bright and have so much to offer. I have heard it said that making gains in education is the unfinished business of the Civil Rights movement. We are thrilled with the progress we are seeing in our students, and hope to see it continue.”