Schools at Work

This week I had the honor of chatting with two school leaders. Jasmine Bergeron of Elan Academy and Javonni Ramos of Foundation Preparatory School. Both highlighted their schools in pure joy when sharing the great work happening in their school communities. Grabbing our delicious treats of king cake and PJs Coffee specialties, I could tell that this interview would be full of energy so we began with brief introductions of the schools and their locations.  

Elan Academy sits quietly on the westbank of New Orleans and grows every year in size. Currently serving pre-kindergarten 4 through 4th grade, next year, they will grow to grade 5. And one year at a time, Elan plans to increase by one grade until they reach grade 8. 

Foundation Preparatory, currently serving kindergarten to 6th grade, is nestled in Gentilly at the long time home of what was Medard H. Nelson Elementary school. Since moving into the school site, Foundation Prep has grown to 250 students in size. 

Both schools are apart of the #SchoolsThatCare campaign run by the organization Black Education of New Orleans (BeNOLA). This initiative is in hopes to shine a spotlight on smaller but promising schools working to develop children’s unique gifts, talents, and personal needs. 

Teachers are Our Greatest Asset 

We quickly moved towards a conversation about the teachers. As a former teacher of the New Orleans charter school movement and now serving as a professor to teach even more teachers, this is a question I wanted to dive right into. I was pleased to hear how much both schools love, respect, and support the craft of the educators in their buildings. 

Both schools utilize a co-teaching model of two teachers in one room. Class sizes cap off at 25 students per room. The co-teaching model promotes a novice teacher or newer teacher to the profession to work with a more seasoned or veteran teacher who can model the skill of teaching and then allow the teacher to practice and hone skills for themselves. It also supports students receiving more personalized learning instruction by working in smaller groups. 

Ms. Bergeron informed us of their efforts to concentrate on professional development stressing that this work begins early. Professional development happens for four weeks during summer and continues every Friday of the school year. Friday’s students take part in a shortened school day so that teachers can take part in their own teaching and learning. And once a month, teachers are able to leave at 2 p.m. in support of what they call a “Health Day.” During this time teachers are encouraged to take care of themselves by heading to the doctor or fulfilling any other needs in order to take care of themselves. 

Mr. Ramos went on to explain that the teachers at Foundation Prep undergo professional development that helps them to support their students and their social-emotional lives. Students are not apart from their home lives or the traumatic experiences that may have occurred outside of school. Foundation Prep has partnered with the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies (I-WES) to train and support teachers in their work with students and mental health education. This professional development helps their teachers to learn about 1) Impact of individual and community trauma, 2) Adverse Childhood Experiences, 3) Self-community- care and resilience, 4) Restorative Justice Practices. With the help of I-WES, Foundation Prep helps to build teachers who are equipped to support their students if social-emotional issues arise. 

A Typical Day 

When asked about what a day in the life of a student looked like, Ms. Bergeron explained that every day is a new beginning at Elan Academy. The morning starts with being greeted by a school leader, followed by breakfast and brain work to get their juices flowing. Then there is a morning meeting pow-wow and classroom morning chants and affirmations that set their intentions to have a great day of learning. 

Students there also partake in learning Latin as a second language in efforts to build their capacities to learn even more words. And finally, at the end of the day, students are given a choice hour where they are able to make choices in fun activities with their peers or on their own. 

Mr. Ramos jumped in and explained that students at Foundation Prep began the day somewhat the same though the younger students were supported by the 5th graders during the breakfast hour. Students at Foundation Prep were also heavily focused on Literacy. That includes all facets: reading, writing, speaking/listening, and language arts instruction. And apart from the normal school day, students there partake in yoga classes, an effort to move their bodies and breathe in order to center themselves and continue learning. 

Parental Involvement

One of our final questions of the night was about parents and their involvement. Elan Academy has a Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) but prides themselves on their open-door policy as well as keeping their parents close and asking them what they want and need from the school. This open communication helps the staff serve their students best to build a community fostered in connection and working with each other not just for one another. 

Foundation Prep leans into their Parent Association by having it run by the school’s teachers. Parental involvement is so important to the work with student progress that the teachers have taken on that task with pride. Mr. Ramos also gave big kudos to Foundation Prep’s parent liaison who has been apart of the school since it opened. She set the foundation for the teachers to follow her lead in making phone calls to each and every parent and guardian to create the connections needed to continue the work inside of the school. 

Work and Progress 

With so many choices and so little spotlight on smaller schools and their offerings, I was happy to have met these two school leaders. While we as parents work with the changes and may not have as much time as we would like to, to do school visits or are just inundated with the emphasis on letter grades, this interview was encouraging. There are schools in the city doing the work that matters that want to offer you and your child a place to grow together in education. 

Though it seems that equitable education is out of reach for us and our children, that is not the truth. There are school sites that are continuously working and approaching school in a non-traditional fashion tailored to serve our non-traditional New Orleanian children. Let’s continue to do what we can do by asking the questions and viewing our options. You just may find the diamond in the rough you were hoping for.

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