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Sep 01st

Urban League Academy Elementary School premise: Children love learning

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Raenel Jones

The Urban League Academy Elementary School is a public charter school operated by the Minneapolis Urban League (MUL), and is located at 2220 16th Av. N., Minneapolis.

Created in 1987 as an early childhood development program for young teen parents, the program evolved into an elementary school to serve students who weren't succeeding in the Minneapolis Public Schools District.


Raenel Jones

The Urban League Academy Elementary School is a public charter school operated by the Minneapolis Urban League (MUL), and is located at 2220 16th Av. N., Minneapolis.

Created in 1987 as an early childhood development program for young teen parents, the program evolved into an elementary school to serve students who weren't succeeding in the Minneapolis Public Schools District.

Over the twenty-year history of the program, Raenel Jones, Urban League Academy program director, has witnessed many changes in urban education.

Throughout this time she has maintained a basic principle: "All children love learning. Whatever it takes to get a child to learn, it's our job to figure out how to help them learn."

This principle, coupled with small class sizes, lots of nurturing, individual attention and parent participation, creates an atmosphere of mutual respect, confidence and student aspirations to succeed. Historically, the academy has closed the achievement gap for many students. Students having difficulty in the public schools are now competing and placing in chess and spelling competitions. Some parents choose to send their children to the academy based on its reputation and MUL as the umbrella organization.
A graduate of Lincoln High School, mother of four and a resident of the Northside community for many years, Jones says she understands the impact of social, economic, and educational disparities: "Students, their family life, who they are, are really different than what we educators could have imagined twenty years ago. Their lives overrun their school life. Whatever is happening at home, they bring it to school with them. Teachers are being asked to be counselors, nurses, moms, and dads. They're asking a lot of an educational system that's not prepared to answer those needs."

Where the public schools focus solely on educating the child, Jones says the academy also considers the needs of the family.
"Whatever is going on with a child is affected by his family. Children are not isolated. It's better to answer to the needs of the family in order to get to the child. If we just deal with the child, most of the time we're not going to see what the problem is," Jones explained.

When students enter the academy, their parents receive an MUL brochure listing available programs and services. In some cases Jones calls upon those resources to provide immediate assistance to students and their families.

One day an ill student needed to be taken home. In the process of trying to locate a parent, Jones learned that the student, her mother and sibling were homeless. Jones helped the family move into a shelter. Although this ended the debacle of a student's family living on the streets, it impressed upon Jones the rampant disparities in this, the world's richest nation. The chances are high that this homeless family might have remained invisible in the public school system, she said.

Many parents tell Jones, "They [public school staff] don't understand where I'm coming from." A communication gap occurs where there's an absence of understanding about the family, community and social climate of the students.
"We're still thinking in terms of a nuclear family – mom, dad, and 2.5 kids at home," said Jones. "I see grandparents, brothers, uncles, foster parents, somebody's parents' parents. I still have to look at it as their family, where these children live. If we're not helping the families to help children, we're not helping children."

During the early years, parent participation proves critical to a child's success. Children in the childhood development program entered kindergarten in the public school system with high test scores. By th
 

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