It is a misconception that Black and Latino students from underserved communities such as in East New York where Collegiate Academy for Mathematics and Personal Awareness (CAMPA) is located, cannot achieve academic excellence. Between principal George E. Leonard and assistant principal Niaka Gaston, they have over five decades of educational experience between them where their students have achieved high rates of success.
Their belief is if the right settings and conditions are put in place, these students will soar. “Success is the rule; Failure is the exception that our current educational systems foster. I know that the life trajectories of children with experiences similar to mine and worse do not have to be determined by these unfortunate circumstances. Success is genetically stitched into all our DNA, and the difference is if the nurturing environment exists to allow our potential to be reached. Education is the great equalizer,” Gaston ignites.
Far too long many children from underserved communities throughout the United States have been deemed incapable of grasping higher concepts in science and mathematics, let alone ELA, but for Leonard and Gaston, this is simply not true. This duo has created a litmus test through the years, which has garnered high levels of student success in underserved communities and schools.
For Gaston his story is no different than so many of his students. “I was the student from the underserved community with the impoverished background. I am from a single-parent home raised on public assistance. I lived in public housing and even a homeless shelter. I attended public schools in Bedford-Stuyvesant up until my undergraduate studies. I should have been a statistic. I am considered the exception to the rule. However, there are more exceptions to the rule than society and reports choose to acknowledge,” he candidly uttered.
In 2003, George E. Leonard, Niaka Gaston and their team, spearheaded Bedford Academy High School. It was an innovative learning institution designed to accelerate a population who achieved little academic success — its students earned a place in the top 2% of the city.
In 2007, Bedford Academy High School solidified its title as one of the best schools in New York City. With a score 103.6, Bedford Academy was named #1 in Brooklyn and the #2 school in New York City. It was also rated the best in Regents passing, attendance, graduation rates, college entrance, and performance. Since then, Leonard and Gaston have been instrumental in transforming two schools in Washington, DC and another one in East New York, Brooklyn.
“Our mission for CAMPA now, is to prepare our middle school students for success – our students are at-promise not at-risk and we know each student has unique talents and abilities to offer to their communities,” Leonard cites. Due to the understanding that their students already possess the capabilities needed to succeed, Leonard and Gaston have made science and mathematics the core.
“History reminds us that these disciplines were derived directly out of the civilizations of color. Once we begin to link the achievements of people of color through the passages of time with our children of today accented by the relevance of these disciplines, underserved students will certainly excel. I’ve seen it repeatedly in schools that I’ve taught, managed and reformed. People are in disbelief at the possibility of a 5th grader taking and passing the Living Environment Regents or a 6th grader passing the 11th grade United States History and Government Regents. For me, it’s just another day in this mission,” Gaston adds.
CAMPA’s teachers and staff use data to drive all instructional and operational decisions in the classroom and school, a synthesis of instructional best practices, incorporation of reflective practice in all aspects of the school and various strategies to meet or exceed their intended goals.
With this being said, great things will come from CAMPA in the near future.
For more information visit CAMPA at http://www.campacharter.org