Kuumba Charter School Embraces Wilmington as its Campus
Defying myths about urban people, urban families and how to achieve Charter School success.
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Kuumba Academy Charter School in Wilmington feels like any other elementary school. A banner in the foyer reads “welcome.” Paper chains hang here and there. Inspirational words are posted on the walls. Children laugh in the halls, and teachers chat while leaning on the front desk. A few parents—yes, parents—come and go.
But in so many ways, Kuumba is anything but another elementary school. With no library in their building, the students walk up the street to Wilmington Public Library. They march to the Walnut Street YMCA for gym class and swimming. They stroll two blocks up Market Street for dance class at Christina Cultural Arts Center and cross the street to study at the Delaware History Center. With the city as its campus, elementary school feels, in one sense, more like college.
And the kids work as hard as some college students. They have homework. Every. Single. School night. And, often, on weekends. Their teachers work just as hard—Saturdays and summer days, too. And those parents not only visit the campus regularly but also are required to help there, at least 30 hours a year.
Not that anyone minds. It’s what everyone signs on for when a student is accepted at Kuumba. Because Kuumba kids—95 percent African-American, 90 percent from low-income households—succeed. For the past three years, they have met or exceeded standard measures of achievement in math and language arts, and in many disciplines, they have soared over the state averages for student performance. Kuumba alumni have gone on to perform well everywhere from regular public high schools to Cab Calloway School of the Arts to top-ranked Wilmington Charter to exclusive privates like Tower Hill.
So without stating that it has something to prove, Kuumba does, indeed, have something to prove: Given the support and guidance, certain populations can rock any academic challenge you throw
“Kuumba defies myths about urban people, urban families, what they will and will not do,” says founding board member Raye Jones Avery. “When people feel they have ownership, they will be involved.”
Kuumba grew out of a desire among parents of students and preschoolers at Christina Cultural Arts Center in Wilmington to avoid sending their kids out of the city to their “feeder pattern” public schools, where they’d have to take their lumps on the quality of education. An advisory group of parents, educators and elected officials formed, then drafted a charter that would make Kuumba the only elementary school in the state whose focus was integrating the arts into the disciplines of math, science, language arts and social studies. It was also the first school to partner formally with a community nonprofit.