Making a difference in the lives of black children
Does the success of an innovative L.A. charter school contain lessons for education in Clark County?
BY KIMBERLY BAILEY-TUREAUD
There is an ongoing debate about the Clark County school system and educational disparities impacting black students. The discussion — or as some see it, lack of the right discussions — in the Nevada Legislature prompted Las Vegas Black Image Magazine to take a close look at what successful charter schools in other areas are doing to help low-income black students succeed.
At the Executive Preparatory Academy of Finance (EPAF) in Los Angeles, founder Omar McGee focuses on closing the financial literacy gap in communities of color. And since its opening in 2013, the school has registered impressive test scores and garnered the support of such notables as former President Bill Clinton and actor Louis Gossett Jr.
According to McGee’s statistical data, black students at EPAF are exceeding expectations. “Almost 90% of our children passed our exit exams, and this year our [seniors] are on course to have a 100% graduating class,” said McGee. “Many of the students who first came to our school were from low-income homes and reading at a second-grade level.”
McGee’s formula for academic success: create a campus environment where teachers get to know, understand and develop a connection with their students.
“I make sure that at Executive Prep, all of our teachers have a personal relationship with our students,” he said. “You must understand the children that you are trying to teach and connect with. It is a priority to understand the issues that our low-income students … are going through — which brings a great connection between student and teacher.”
Self-taught childhood life lessons had a significant impact on McGee and shaped his worldview. “I came from a low-income community — and experienced, as a child, someone being killed in front of me. I took my life in a different direction and later attended Howard University, where I started my first non-profit,” he said. “Students know when you really care about them and their situations. This is very important to us before we even get into instruction and the goals and accomplishments we want our students to achieve. As far as our curriculum, we hold 90-minute classes instead of 50-minute classes for students, and it gives children more time to catch up.
McGee understands the hold that ever-evolving technology has on today’s youth and uses that inclination to propel them forward.
“If the child is advanced, we push them further and faster to maintain their attention,” he said. “Our modern-day society revolves around technology, and because of it our children are smarter. So, we have to teach the way that today’s children are receiving information. If we stay with the old [ways] of teaching, our students will get bored and we will lose them. We keep the children and we modify our lessons to make it fun. Understanding who our children are is very important. Education is the only thing that ignores innovation. Traditional school systems are using the same methods that were used 50 years ago. Nothing has changed. If I put you in a car and hand you a map, you would look at me and think I was crazy. You would say, ‘We don’t use maps anymore, I will use my navigation system.’ We [need to] make education ‘cool’ again.”
For additional information go to: www.executiveprep.org.