Jonathan Johnson was in his second year as a teacher at KIPP Central City Academy in New Orleans when one of his students, Ricky Summers, was murdered by another of his students. Johnson, a first generation college graduate, had been planning to go to law school, but Ricky’s death made him reconsider.
“I realized that the worst thing I could do for my students was to leave,” he said. “Ricky’s death inspired me. It revealed to me that there was a lot more we could do to equip students like Ricky, to address the conditions of their lives.”
Johnson created Rooted School, a “tiny school” that will launch in fall 2015 to educate at-risk children and to help them “discover their why.” The school, which Johnson developed with help from 4.0 Schools and New Schools for New Orleans, will prepare at-risk students for college and connect them with opportunities in the digital media sector to help them envision their futures and start planning for their careers.
“I want students to feel ownership of their future and the choices they make,” Johnson said. “My hope is that students experience the value of a job — not a job at the local McDonalds or Taco Bell or corner school, but a job that has the possibility of making more money than anyone in their family has ever earned. I want them to experience that and allow the impact of that opportunity to drive short- and long-term decisions.”
Johnson said the guidance and coaching from 4.0 Schools helped him refine his ideas, build community support, lead a non-profit organization, and launch a school.
“For the past 20 years, we have been trying to solve the school-to-college pipeline problem — particularly for kids with backgrounds like mine or Ricky’s,” he said. “We have to broaden the pathways of what success can look like for these students. These tiny schools allow us to create quicker solutions to that problem of what success is, and the problems we need to solve in the 21st century.”
Rooted School began as a venture of 4.0 Schools, a not-for-profit education incubator working in New Orleans and New York City. With backing from organizations including the Walton Family Foundation, 4.0 Schools cultivates and supports entrepreneurs who are creating new schools and innovative approaches to learning that address problems in America's K-12 schools.
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