Sci Academy was born five years ago as New Orleans was recovering from Hurricane Katrina. When the high school opened its doors for the first time it was no more than a small sign on the highway and a collection of depressing empty trailers.
“We started the school with a ninth grade curriculum in place. We had all the books that ninth graders are supposed to read. We had an algebra course that ninth graders are supposed to take all laid out,” says Ben Marcovitz, founder of Sci Academy. Then he met his students. “(They) were reading far below grade level, often five or six grade levels below. In many cases they did not know basic operations of math, let alone algebra. So we had to scrap the curriculum… and start with something that builds skills with a more rudimentary level.
More than 90 percent of students at Sci Academy were eligible for free or reduced lunch (a common indicator of poverty in the United States), and almost all were Afro-American. Katrina had ruined the homes and communities of many of them, but the tragedy had begun years before the hurricane, when students entered a school system that had not provided them with even the basic education they deserved.
A year later, the average reading levels of students had improved by 3.5 grades. By 2010, Sci Academy was the highest performing open enrolment school in New Orleans. In 2012, 100 per cent of their first graduating class was accepted into college, and 97 percent had been accepted into 4-year colleges.
This month, we are bringing you an in-depth look at this single transformational school. We’re not doing this because Sci Academy is perfect, but because visiting a school that serves a low-income community and enables students to succeed far beyond the expectations of most people is a powerful way to expand your sense of possibility. It certainly has done a lot to show me and many of us across Teach For All (and beyond) what students can do when given the right opportunity and environment. Through this special issue of the Synergies Magazine, we want to bring you the experience of visiting Sci Academy for yourself, expanding your sense of what is possible and provoking productive reflection.
Today, there are 410 students at Sci Academy. The school is led by Rhonda Dale-Hart (Teach For America, 1999) and is continuing to prove that it’s never too late for students to succeed academically and in life.
Welcome to Sci Academy.
Part 2: Values and vision
Part 3: Growth mindset