“The people that you meet there are going to stick with you throughout your life. And the friends will be friends that we will keep for a long time.” Marie Jackson, a junior at Washington High School, is one of thousands of students who have been impacted by The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success (ASPS) since it began in 1989. ASPS serves Black, Brown, and biracial students in the Cedar Rapids area, and has partnered with Cedar Rapids Community School District (CRCSD) for nearly two decades. ASPS students receive culturally-specific instruction to enrich their academic experience.
CRCSD high school students can participate in the traditional summer program and the R.I.S.E. (Radical Integrity Toward Self-Empowerment) program. Running for six weeks at Mount Mercy University, the two summer programs teach a culturally-specific curriculum through the lens of Black history and culture. Middle school students can participate in the African-American Awareness Program (AAAP), which is taught by CRCSD teachers during the school year in each of the six middle schools. Third through fifth grade students have the opportunity to participate in the Academy Expansion program, which is housed in Johnson STEAM Academy during the school year.
All three programs give Black, Brown, and biracial students the opportunity for a continuous ASPS experience from third to 12th grade. “The Academy has helped me find my voice,” says Jackson.
Charrisse Cox, a fourth grade teacher at Johnson STEAM Academy, attended an ASPS closing ceremony in July 2006. She was so inspired by the high school students that she wanted to do something similar with elementary students. Moments later, Dr. Ruth White—the founder of ASPS—gave the closing remarks and said it was her dream to expand the program to younger students. “I talked to Dr. White after the program was over, and said when you’re ready to do the elementary program, let me know,” explains Cox. “She called me in August and asked if I was still interested. We hammered out the curriculum and the Expansion started that October.”
Each Expansion session begins with this affirmation that was written by 2010 Expansion students:
“As Academy scholars, we are proud of our heritage and who we are. We will honor our families and teachers by walking with integrity. We will work to keep our bodies healthy and fit, expand our minds and strive for excellence in everything we do. We will reach and exceed our goals because we will never give up on our dreams!”
During the school-year program, the focus is on academic excellence, leadership, and cultural pride along with strengthening confidence and building self-esteem. Academics is another focal point. “We read African-American literature,” explains Cox. “We discuss, question, and make connections to develop higher-level thinking skills.”
Not only are there academic components, but there is also focus on nutrition and wellness. “We bring in healthy snacks, like pita chips, veggie straws, and fruits or veggies that students may not normally eat,” says Cox.
The Expansion program also reaches out to parents through three parent meetings a year. During these meetings, Expansion staff teaches parents how to advocate for their children and encourages them to get involved in activities like their school’s parent-teacher association.
How students can join
Students who are interested in joining an ASPS program should speak with their school counselor or teacher. The Expansion program and AAAP both begin in October, and the high school programs are during the summer (June-July). Learn more at theacademysps.com.