by Aharon Morris
Nestled atop Bayview and Pomona streets in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood is Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy. Dr. Charles Drew College Prep is an elementary school, designated for pre-kindergarten through third grade students. Yes – Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy is an elementary school.
As part of the San Francisco Unified School District’s “Dream School” initiative, a program intended to transform under-performing, inner-city schools into college prep academies to rival their private school counterparts, Dr. Charles Drew College Prep was targeted as one of the many schools slated for improvement. Leading the charge for improvement at Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy is Principal Tamitrice Rice-Mitchell. According to Rice-Mitchell, “Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy is taking college awareness to another level.”
Rice-Mitchell, having grown up on the hill, a local reference to Hunters Point, is well aware of the problems facing the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood. Tackling such chronic issues as poverty, crime and underserved school communities is what drove Rice-Mitchell toward the field of education and, more importantly, to bring her acquired expertise back to the Bayview community.
Rice-Mitchell’s mantra is very much interwoven into Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy’s mission statement. Rice-Mitchell believes that student success ultimately depends on the shared responsibility of families, staff and student-scholars. All are stakeholders in the success of the students at Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy and in the success and reputation of the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood as a whole.
In an area where schools do not often fare well, Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy has been removed from the district’s list of underperforming schools, according to the Academic Performance Index (API), after having at least two consecutive years of improvement. What then is Ms. Rice-Mitchell doing at Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy to bolster this degree of improvement?
In a move seemingly counterintuitive to usual tactics to stimulate community participation in neighborhood schools, Ms. Rice-Mitchell and the teachers and staff at Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy have asked the surrounding Bayview community not merely what the community can do to help improve the school, but what the school can do to help improve the community. In what is now being championed as a “community school,” Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy is rapidly becoming recognized as a hub for community service and engagement.
Need a haircut? Come to Drew. No, seriously, come to Drew. Recently, on Sept. 21, 2010, a few of the local barbers from the surrounding neighborhood graciously volunteered to cut around 20 of Drew’s student-scholars’ hair on their day off so they would be ready for the upcoming picture day – free of charge.
The event was such a success that these same barbers, Mr. LaRon Criswell from Shears Beauty and Barber Shop, Mr. JB, Mr. Terrance “T-Bone” Powell and Mr. Roderick Francois II (Buck) have offered to make this a recurring event, extending the offer to the surrounding community. If you or your boys are ever in need of a haircut, they can come to Drew as part of the “Drew’s Barbers” program.
This is only one small example of the types of services Principal Rice-Mitchell has extended to the Bayview community. Need parenting classes or advice? Come to Drew. Job-readiness training? Come to Drew. Need clean clothes? Come to Drew. How about, “I’m a 15-60-year-old African American male trying to raise a kid on my own and I just need to sit down and talk it out with some brothers that know the struggle?” Come to Drew. Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy has you covered.
As part of a vision Ms. Rice-Mitchell had to get more fathers involved in the lives of her schoolchildren, Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy partnered with the director of Men’s Services’ special Fatherhood Initiative, Jim Martin of the Bayview Hunters Point YMCA, to bring a twice-monthly men’s group to Drew every other Tuesday night. The men meet regularly in the school’s library to eat, laugh and talk about, well – being men.
The list of community services offered at Drew is growing steadily, and, as a result, the number of community members serving as volunteers at Drew is also growing. It is not uncommon to see a community member any day of the week at Drew. Bayview community members are serving at Drew as playground monitors, food servers, maintenance crew, tutors, mentors, book sorters – basically in any way they can.
This is precisely what Principal Rice-Mitchell had in mind when she took the reins as commander-in-chief at Drew. This is her vision: a school that serves its community – and a community that serves its school.
It should come as no surprise that when a community and its schools are so thoroughly interconnected, great things are going to happen. As a result of Ms. Rice-Mitchell’s leadership and her supporting teachers and staff at Drew, student scholars at Drew are beginning to not only catch up to their counterparts in other, more affluent neighborhood schools, but they are steadily on pace with them.
Resulting is the removing of Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy from the low-performing API list. Also resulting, and perhaps more importantly, is the amount of pride that has been instilled in student scholars, teachers and staff, and community members in and around Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy.
The word is out. Great things are happening at Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy.
Are you curious about how you can become a part of Ms. Rice-Mitchell’s vision for Bayview? Have ideas you would like to see implemented at Dr. Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy? Contact Aharon Morris of the San Francisco Education Fund at (415) 749-3700, ext. 3037, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author Aharon Morris is an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer for the San Francisco Education Fund, a nonprofit organization that believes strong public schools are critical to San Francisco’s viability and that the community must take action to ensure their success. By acting as a bridge between the community and the classroom, the SF Education Fund increases the availability and impact of resources for students and teachers throughout San Francisco public schools.