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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From left to right: First-grader Marley Saunders enjoys lunch her way; Malachi Lyons (center) tells his mother, Tahira Lyons, he’d prefer to go to school on snow days. He is pictured with fellow second-grader Mekhi Boone and teacher Danielle Abou-Samra; Fifth graders participate in a period called crew, an exercise in character building and relating positively with others.
The rigor applies equally to character building and cultural awareness. Part of that character building comes through formal class periods such as “crew,” where fifth-graders examine their thoughts and feelings in order to know themselves better so that they might relate better with others. Since the program was implemented, Maldonado says, disciplinary actions have dropped significantly. And Connell says teachers gain a better insight into the students’ home lives in ways that help them better serve the kids. African-American heritage is studied through the arts, Avery says, and knowing that culture helps make the kids agents of change in their communities.
“Our teachers never stop trying,” says sixth-grader William Laws, who started at Kuumba in first grade. “They make sure we’re ready for the next thing.” Lessons he has learned during crew, he says, have helped prevent him from responding angrily to insults from others, and the program has taught him how to set goals. By reading the novel “Red Scarf Girl,” he learned about the Cultural Revolution in China, which has helped him to see the China of the present in a new way and helped shaped his perspective on respect. “We’re never just learning,” William says. “We’re learning how to get smarter.”
His brother, second-grader Harper Laws, is blending his academic work with his love of baseball by writing a biography of Babe Ruth. He believes he’s ready to tackle the multiplication tables, and he looks forward to his younger brother, Nate, joining him and William at the school next year. “When my smaller brother goes, I can finally watch somebody, like William watched me,” Harper says. “Nate already knows some of my friends.”
The family atmosphere at the school is also key to its success. It is deliberately cultivated through frequent family movie nights, low-price dinner nights, Take A Parent to School Day and other activities. And it celebrated with a Family of the Month Award.
Maldonado grew up in local Catholic schools, where students knew each other well, so “that family feeling feels good,” she says. But unlike the schools of her youth, with a one-size-fits-all approach that sometimes left struggling students struggling, Kuumba teachers take the time to identify issues and work with students one on one, even on Saturday mornings.
Howard Laws, father of William, Harper and Nate—as well as the school’s part-time family liaison—notes that, without Kuumba, his boys would have attended some of the lowest-performing public schools in the county. In a home that values education as a means to success and learning as a valuable exercise in its own right, the school is perfect for the family.