Kenya Crockett, Executive Director of Ypsilanti’s New Beginnings Academy (NBA) returned from a spring break educator’s conference brimming with new ideas to share with her leadership team. Her enthusiasm was already high, thanks to a new curriculum added for the 2015/16 student year. “Our students are performing better on standardized tests, student engagement and daily attendance has dramatically increased, and morale is up across the board,” said Crockett.
Started in the basement of an Ypsilanti church in 1999, NBA began with an enthusiastic team determined to live up to the school motto, “Learners Today, Leaders Tomorrow.” In 2002, the school moved to a new facility on Michigan Avenue, focusing on family culture with an expanded team of educators.
Like many schools, NBA has recently faced a number of significant challenges. Declining student enrollment means less state funding, and NBA needed to update old curriculum that no longer met state proficiency standards.
Crockett and a new curriculum
Hired in May 2014 to help turn the school around, Crockett and her leadership team’s first priority was to select a new curriculum. They implemented EngageNY for the 2015 /2016 school year, designed by the New York State Education Department, based on common core standards, exceeding Michigan State Standards.
“EngageNY provides rigorous, student focused materials and instructional strategies for teaching both English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics. It also encourages parents to follow online with the child’s curriculum progress,” said Crockett. The team also now sends each student home with their own daily planner, outlining the student’s agenda, homework requirements and instructor’s comments. “More and more parents are now asking the question, ‘Where is your homework?’,” said Wonder Barton, a third grade teacher at NBA. “Parents are more involved with monitoring the student completing that homework.”
A whiteboard grid filled with the expectations for each lesson hang in every classroom. “We write the agenda for the day, what the students should have learned by the end of each lesson, what their homework is, and so on. If the grid is empty, I have students asking me “what are we learning today?”, Barton explains.
Adds Crockett, “Everything we do at NBA is intended to set students up for success, and when they do succeed we love to reward them. We’ll give them pencils, hats and gloves knitted by local organizations, or other small items that encourage them to continue to strive to do their personal best.”
A family approach
Sharon Scott, NBA’s Front Office Manager is the first face the children see in the morning. “If I see a sad or angry face in the morning, I invite the kids in to talk through their problems, and then encourage them to do well that day, they report back to me by the end of the day with their achievements, I offer them a hug or a reward. We can’t control or change family circumstances, but it’s rewarding for us if we can turn a frowning face into a happy face each day.”
This holistic approach to education also includes a high adult to student ratio. Each classroom boasts a lead teacher, a paraprofessional and, extending the family concept further, a Grandma, putting the family concept into practice.
Every NBA staff member believes they are part of each child’s family. Deja Hunt, Cheerleading Coach and Lunch Room Supervisor, is the first to say, “NBA is just one big family. We all love it here.”
“Partnering with some great kid focused businesses, we also support our hard working families by offering free after-school programs where the kids get to both learn and play,” said Crockett.
Lacking funds, not spirit
“We rely solely on state funding ($7325 per student), but in years following low enrollment, the funding often doesn’t cover all the costs,” said Crockett. “We still have to run the school providing education and wrap around services, but it can be tough. When the basement flooded due to equipment failure last year, that was an emergency for which we were not prepared, and we still had to pay teacher’s’ salaries and all other operating costs.”
Despite funding concerns, positive things are happening at NBA. While the whole school entered into the long process of state testing, Kenya Crockett talked about the baby chicks about to arrive in the second grade classroom. The students are excited about interacting with the animal kingdom. “The frogs survived last year,” she said. “So I expect the chicks should be okay.” “The progress the students have made since last year is phenomenal,” adding, “We are really proud of what the children, the parents and the teachers have accomplished here.”
Find out more about New Beginnings Academy at