In July 2019, Ambition Prep opened on the westside of Jackson, Mississippi with a plan to serve nearly 775 K-8th grade scholars. It was founded by DeArchie Scott, a native Mississippian and educator with a track record for helping low-income students of color thrive, both in school and in life. And local families want his help. At the time of authorization, the local school district was ranked the third lowest-performing school district in the state based on academic performance. The nearby elementary schools on average had fewer than 20% of students reading proficiently, a statistic Ambition Prep plans to change. It is succeeding.
Even in its first year, Ambition Prep scholars demonstrated impressive growth in the mastery of core concepts. The key focus is literacy. “We provide our scholars with nearly three hours of literacy instruction daily and provide small group instruction led by two teachers in every classroom. Scott states. “Two and a half years in, we’ve seen progress. The majority of our founding scholars are reading at grade level.”
While literacy is important, Ambition Prep scholars also have 120 minutes a day of mathematics, as well as music, art, physical education and other enrichment programs.
Much of the school’s accomplishment can be keyed to long-standing educational practices: an extended school day, intense teacher development, low student-teacher ratio (2 teachers per classroom). Yet it also reflects the school’s attention to the whole student.
According to Scott, “Lifelong success requires some fundamental skills. Academic knowledge is one. But so are character traits and life skills.”
Character building is built directly into the curriculum. “We believe our scholars can be taught core values—community, urgency, professionalism, integrity. We focus on one core value each month, and weave it through the day, beginning with a motivational morning meeting, which sets the day for success.”
“For instance, we might teach and discuss what it means to be professional. Our students speak and dress professionally.”
In an innovative twist, scholars receive “merits” for demonstrating the core values. Parents get a merit report at the end of each day. Scholars receive merit points (known as Scholar Dollars) that they can spend at the school store. “It teaches them about money, too.” The store stocks everything from treats to backpacks; often scholars will save up their points toward a larger purchase.
Ambition Prep originally rented some former retail space, doing ongoing small renovations to try to make it workable for school purposes. Scott came to BlueHub for funding to acquire the building and do a comprehensive renovation.