School Expects More...and Students Achieve it
by Denise Smith Amos, The Cincinnati Inquirer, July 28,
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The W.E.B. DuBois Academy is an educational cult. And after
talking with parents, students and teachers there, I've got its
Each weekday, all year, its 250 children arise at the crack of
dawn to get to school at 7 a.m.
There's no summer break. The school's first- through
eighth-graders attend 240 days a year, even many Saturdays. Most
Ohio schools are open 180 days a year.
DuBois' school day ends at 5 p.m., hours after regular schools.
Early on a recent summery Thursday, children were pouring out of
cars, buses and vans into the academy's entrance, in a bingo
hall in Over-the-Rhine. Students and teachers wear the requisite
navy blue blazers, khaki pants and skirts.
Terrell Amison, an unemployed window maker, dropped off his two
sons. He said he moved them from Heberle Elementary because they
weren't being challenged enough. They'd been on a waiting list
for a year.
"I've never heard them talk about school like they talk about
this school," Amison says.
I caught up with one of his sons, Kevin Amison, 9, during a
two-hour reading class. About a dozen other fourth-graders were,
like him, quietly reading books and writing sentences and essay
responses to questions.
Kevin said he used to spend summers riding his bike, but he told
me he's happier now. Reading is his favorite subject. He hopes
to be a writer when he grows up.
"Being in school is not a big deal," he says. "I'm leaving
today, going to Baltimore."
That night DuBois students boarded a tour bus for a five-day
trip to Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.
Charter schools like this one are supposed to be alternatives to
public schools. Supported by state funds and local taxes, most
are run independently by nonprofit groups.
Few are as successful academically as DuBois.
Preliminary proficiency test scores show that 100 percent of
DuBois' sixth-graders were proficient in writing, 93 percent
were proficient in "citizenship," and six in 10 students were
proficient in math, reading and science.
Statewide, schools of similar size and demographics can't
compare; most of their sixth-graders are below proficient in
everything but writing.
DuBois' classes are twice as long as most schools - 90 to 120
minutes long, versus the 45 minutes typical in Cincinnati's
Class sizes are small, up to 15 students.
DuBois is not all work. Kids take an array of atypical classes -
from kung fu to ballet, to piano, to step dance.
Those classes teach concentration and self-discipline, explains
Wilson H. Willard III, the school's founder, as he and I watched
an eighth-grader complete a nearly flawless martial arts sword
The student, David Napier, had been labeled a "special needs"
kid at his old school. His mother told me he passed his
proficiency tests and scores high in classes at DuBois.
DuBois doesn't weed out its troubled or disabled kids, Willard
says. It does whatever it takes to teach them.
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