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Stimulus Throws a Lifeline to Afrocentric School

New America Media/Final Call, News Report, Charlene Muhammad Posted: Feb 20, 2010

Editor's Note: This story, which originally appeared in the Final Call, was produced as part of NAM's Stimulus Watch coverage and was funded with a grant from the Open Society Institute.

The Imhotep Institute Charter School (IICS) is thriving with new technology and increased cultural activities, thanks to stimulus funds it received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Situated in a blighted area of Philadelphia, the IICS has struggled for 12 years to provide a full service learning facility, including a performing arts school filled with African dance and drumming classes, advanced placement programs, a senior intern project, and a program called Rites of Passage to help build students cultural, social, spiritual and emotional development.

And although it is the first charter school to build a brand new facility in the city, the students still needed more to be able to compete, said Christine Wiggins, founder/CEO of the IICS. More came in the form of ARRAs $1.4 billion stabilization funds awarded to Pennsylvania to save jobs and push education reform.

The stimulus dollars that we just received have enabled our school to add 12 smart classrooms, do some additional professional development with the staff, and provide some cultural activities and technology that we normally would not have as an inner city school, Title I school. It has allowed our school, though were in the middle of the hood, to become state-of-the-art, Wiggins said.

According to the founder, so far the Institute has received about $400,000 of its initial $850,000 federal award. Wiggins used the money to hire three classroom aids, two full-time teachers, and two additional general support staff members to serve its 525 students. Three hundred more children are on the IICS waiting list. The other $200,000 is trickling in, but she said she is not sure why the State is holding or not reporting the remaining $250,000.

She also put laptop computers in classrooms and created parent education classes to, in part, help parents learn the new technology along with their children to better assist with homework.

The IICS African-centered curriculum also includes an annual trip to Africa for professional teacher development tours. This year, teachers, students, and staff are headed to Ghana, West Africa to exchange ideas and methods on education, as well as service and social activism.

Already, the additions have made a major impact in her sons life, Lucille Beverly told the Final Call. I can see the money working because they have arts, cultural programs, like the Rites of Passage, and crafts classes, which Zachery loves. In his special needs class, there are 10 computers, and they have basketball, carpentry, and other recreation, so when the kids leave there, theyll have something to work with, Beverly said.

Zachery, 14, has been diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), meaning he has trouble paying attention, sitting still, or staying focused on a task or activity. When he switched from his previous school to the IICS, he was below his grade level in Math and Reading, his mother said. He hated going to school, because teachers sent him to the back of class because he was behind, but not anymore, she added.

She drove him an hour away to school each day during his first two weeks at the IICS, but sometimes, he took two buses and one train, just to get there, even though it was confusing.
Now, the school sends a cab service to take him to and from school. I couldnt afford it and I was so happy, Beverly said. He has good teachers but in most of the schools here in Philly, many teachers arent qualified to teach kids with learning disabilities, so they just incorporate them in with the others; even so-called special ed teachers, so they just fall behind.

When President Barack Obama announced his $787 billion stimulus package to save jobs and jump start the economy, Wiggins said she wasnt quite sure how that would impact her school, but she quickly learned. She vowed when the $600,000 runs out, somehow, she plans to keep the additional staff she employed on board.

She said that the stimulus funding has boosted the Institutes philosophy that the children it serves are experiential learners and it enabled her to pay for resources designed for people that are auditory, kinesthetic, and visual. She is also confident that it will help students maintain their eight-year run of 100 percent acceptances to some post-secondary institution.

The stimulus money has made a difference, but we feel that President Obama and [education secretary] Arne Duncan will turn education around only if theyre allowed to get their education plan on the agenda. Its the only hope for our children, said Wiggins.

Related Articles:

BART Loses Fed Funds for Oakland Airport Tram

Stimulus Boost Health Clinics Budgets in Massachusetts

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