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United for Change

An email. A Friday email. A Friday RIGHT BEFORE DISMISSAL email… from the Metro Nashville Charter School Office. This can’t be good. This really can’t be good.

“We just received word that Rocketship United Academy is receiving the confirmation of REWARD SCHOOL for the 2022-2023 school year. Congratulations!”

Reward School? You mean the school in cluster 37217? The 7th poorest county in Nashville? That school, in 37217, with 51% multilingual students? That school, in 37217, with 43% black students? Those same Black students who are expected to graduate at a rate of 14% LESS than their white peers? Those same Black students who are 4 times more likely to be suspended than their white peers?

That school? In 37217? Reward School? You bet.

As a Title 1 school with a large English Language Learner population, the majority of our students are socioeconomically disadvantaged students of color. To receive the Reward School designation, our school had to demonstrate the highest level of academic progress for all student groups. Rocketship United Academy outperformed district and state averages for students of color, economically disadvantaged students, and English Language Learners.

This is huge. A diamond after the pressure. This is what it means to close the opportunity gap.

I keep getting asked, “How did you do it?” “What did you all do?” “What is different about your school?”

The answer is simple. Our Uniters are human beings FIRST, and that’s at the front of our mind. Emotions are real. Anxiety is real. No matter the age. We have seen MULTIPLE times that the world can be unsafe for our Rocketeers, particularly our students of color. They know that, and they feel that. They bring that worry and that frustration with them into our building searching for safety and solace. And they get it.

Daily, we don’t just complete our Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), we live our SEL. We push the envelope of discourse. We speak about our experiences, our perceptions and our lives in the current world we live in. We provide a space for Uniters to feel completely validated in any spectrum of emotion. This builds our student culture to be strong and therefore motivation.

SEL lives in our daily practice. On Mondays, our launch is “Mindfulness Monday” where we, as a school, discuss our SEL strategies for the week and allow students to have conversations with their peers. We finish with our eyes closed, envisioning how to make the world a better place.

SEL is non-negotiable. It’s non-negotiable because the world won’t stop being hard for our students, and they know that. Non-negotiable.

At the end of the day, yes, we won Reward School. Our data is the highest in our cluster. Our multilingual students grew at an exponential rate. Our 4th grade mastery jumped from 30% to 42% in 1 year. Our data gave us the Reward designation.

Our data gave us the designation, but our LOVE gave us the reward. Every student, no matter what, gets instruction at its highest caliber. We firmly believe that there isn’t a wrong way to learn. Because of this belief, we make sure we teach to every type of learner. Every student gets a small group. Every student gets written feedback. Every student gets their homework checked. EVERY student gets taught EVERY minute.

But the real reward isn’t our designation. The REAL reward is our love for our Uniters. The REAL reward is being able to end Black History Month KNOWING that we are serving excellence to our students.

The real reward is being United, and together, we are unleashing potential. Get a peek inside what SEL looks like at Rocketship United Academy below!

Published on March 9, 2024

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