Top Growth data for the 2018-19 school year released by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) that measures individual student’s academic growth towards mastery, shows that Harriet Tubman Charter School scholars are outperforming the state average on their growth towards mastery in both ELA and Math. Harriet Tubman ranks in the top half of all open- enrollment K-8 schools in New Orleans in ELA and Math.
“In 2018-19, as an open-enrollment school dedicated to providing an equitable, excellent education to all students and recognizing a significant need in our community, we made the decision to expand the number of students at our school. We knew it was the right thing to do for the kids,” said Julie Lause, Principal of Harriet Tubman Charter School. “We also knew that adding 460 new students from predominantly low-performing schools was going to present academic and cultural challenges. I am exceptionally proud of our teachers and scholars that despite these challenges, remained committed to pursuing academic excellence.”
Harriet Tubman Charter School received the rare distinction in 2017-18 from the LDOE as both a Top Gains Honoree and an Equity Honoree for demonstrating excellence in educating students with disabilities, students who are English learners, and students who are economically disadvantaged. Harriet Tubman serves more than 1,000 PK-8 New Orleans students.
Charles DePietro, Director of Curriculum and Instruction sums up Tubman’s 7th grade trip as, “7 museums. 6 memorials. 5 days. 4 buffets. 3 metro rides. 2 incredibly long bus rides. 1 unforgettable experience.”
“37 students, six teachers, and one parent went on a five day long trip to the nation’s capital. Many students experienced their first ride on a subway, first baseball game at Nationals Park, and even first time staying in a hotel room with other students. While the chaperones planned guided tours of the Natural History Museum, the Capitol building, and the National Portrait Gallery, there were some once-in-a-lifetime experiences that students encountered. As they walked to the National Museum of African American History and Culture on Sunday morning, they were able to experience George Washington University’s commencement and hear NASA engineer Dr. Christine Darden, of ‘Hidden Figures’, address the crowd and stress the importance of education, especially math and science. On the Howard University campus, students were able to talk to alumni, from the class of ’65 to the class of ’19, about what they valued most from their college experiences. They were also able to witness World War II veterans visit the WWII memorial and celebrate the lives of those who sacrificed their lives during the war. These were experiences that students will not soon forget. Despite being a jam-packed trip, and walking more than 27 miles, many (now) 8th grade scholars are already asking how they can become chaperones for next year’s trip.” Thanks, Mr. DePietro for the great narrative!
Andrew Boyce, a third grade teacher at Tubman, was contemplating a service learning opportunity for students that integrated community service and civic responsibility when he heard two scholars talking about the sudden death of one of their favorite rappers. They expressed their sense of helplessness and that there was nothing anybody could do to change things. Mr. Boyce decided that he wanted to show the students that they do have a voice and that they can do things to change their community. From there the service learning project, a letter writing campaign to Mayor LaToya Cantrell, began. Students in grades 3-8 wrote letters to the mayor expressing concerns, providing words of encouragement to the first woman mayor of New Orleans, and offering ideas on ways to improve the city. “The project took on a life of its own,” said Mr. Boyce. “The students really had a lot of opinions that they wanted to share. I collected more than 300 letters!” In addition to writing, many classes engaged in deep discussions on race, gender, and the role of government.
“When Mr. Boyce approached me with hundreds of letters from our students to the mayor,” said Tubman Principal, Julie Lause, “I told him that we should be realistic. ‘She’s not going to read all of these letters,’ I said”. Recognizing how demanding the mayor’s job is, Lause advised Mr. Boyce’ to select 20 letters, organize them in a binder, and to lower his expectations about her responsiveness.
In fact, Mayor Cantrell read all the letters, reached out to Lause, and asked to visit Tubman and meet with the students who had so many good ideas about improving the city. The mayor arrived with the binder under her arm, ready to talk to students about what she knew they cared about. “They wrote her with ideas about reducing crime, eliminating police shootings, solving the homelessness in our neighborhood, and managing the water in our city. Our students were full of ideas for improving their city and also full of encouragement for the Mayor,” shared Lause. “Every time a student told her ‘We’re so proud of you for being our first female and first black female mayor,’ Mayor Cantrell would say ‘I’m just like you. I cared about my city and now look, I get to make a change. You, too, get to make a change.’ ”
The mayor’s visit inspired students and staff, and not only did Mayor Cantrell engage with students who had dozens of questions for her, but she also stayed afterwards for hugs with students and selfies with staff. Her words of advice to the scholars, “You have to know who you are, be strong about it, stand tall. You don’t have to look down upon people, but you do look up and know that you are destined to be great. You’re built for it. You’re just like me.”
Tubman female scholars take a leadership role introducing the wonders of science to GiST participants. On a recent Saturday, 15 girls from Tubman studied flowers frozen in liquid nitrogen and marshmallow catapults as a part of the Girls in STEM program at Tulane University. For the last four years, Tubman has participated in the GiST Program.
The workshop format provides girls in fifth-seventh grades from across New Orleans the opportunity to meet and work with women role models in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. For the first time this year, Tubman was invited to bring eighth-grade alumni of the program to serve as GiST Orientation Leaders! Orientation Leaders had a behind-the-scenes look at how to program events, work with college students and professors, and help students discover the wonders of Science.
Janae, a Tubman seventh grader expressed, “Working with dry ice and liquid nitrogen and seeing how they changed the density of a flower when we exposed it was my favorite experiment.” Demi was most excited about designing marshmallow catapults, “It was fun and made sense…I want to do more experiments like that.”
The goal of GiST is to encourage creative thinking, promote self-esteem, and to increase awareness about careers in STEM. The Tulane faculty and Tulane student teams encourage and empower girls to inquire, investigate, and discover in a positive environment.
“When we look at the field of individuals working in science, there are five men for every one woman,” shared Moneisha Cunningham, Tubman Science teacher and strong advocate of the GiST program. “This program brings girls together from all over the city and shows them anybody can do these things. They become aware of opportunities and discover that the possibilities of what they can do are limitless.”
Recently, young men from Harriet Tubman Charter School spent a Saturday on Tulane’s campus for Boys at Tulane in STEM (BATS). BATS provides fifth through seventh grade boys with the opportunity to meet and work with role models in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Tulane’s program encourages scholars to actively inquire, investigate, and discover in a welcoming science and engineering environment. When asked why he wanted to attend BATS, Tubman scholar Jessie said, “It was important for me to go to BATS so I could have more experiences with Science. I went to have fun with Science and to learn about different subjects of Science.” The Tubman team attended a range of sessions revolving around different areas of STEM, including conservation biology, fossils, slime making, germs, and cells. They had a full day of interactions and inventing. The teams were given the challenge of engineering a catapult, and their day concluded with a team competition where each team had to submit and test their project. Tubman won the whole competition! For the second year in a row! “My heart wouldn’t stop beating when I demonstrated the catapult,” shared Edward, the 7th grader chosen to test the device, with Moneisha Cunningham, his Science teacher at Tubman. Teammate Tarik added, “My favorite part was making the catapult. It was made out of marshmallow, chopsticks, rubber bands, and a spoon. It was a forces activity. We wanted to see which marshmallow could go the furthest. We won the competition!”
“What a thrill for us as a school and for the boys,” exclaimed Julie Lause, Tubman’s principal. “Not every boy in that group thought of themselves as a scientist before they went, but all of them came home with ‘engineering competition winner’ in their repertoire. Events like this that motivate and inspire are what we do at Tubman.” Scholar Miguel confirmed Lause’s comment when he added, “I went to have fun and do cool Science things!”
In 2011 when Crescent City Schools assumed operations of Harriet Tubman Charter School, it was a persistently failing school. In less than two years, Tubman went from an F to a C, scores climbed, attendance improved, and 8th graders began enrolling in high-performing high schools. Now Tubman is recognized as one of the top open-enrollment PK-8 schools in New Orleans and its leader, Principal Julie Lause, is a champion for providing all children of New Orleans with an excellent, equitable education. Last November, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) released School Performance Scores (SPS) and, in addition to earning an “A” Growth score, and Top Gains distinction, Tubman received the rare distinction as an Equity Honoree. As defined by the LDOE, an Equity Honoree must demonstrate excellence in educating students with disabilities, students who are English learners, and students who are economically disadvantaged.
Lause is an outspoken advocate for an equitable school system, and striving for equity is a way of life on Tubman’s two campuses. As their school motto says, “We Make the Path by Walking.” Students are provided with the tools they need to succeed, including an excellent curriculum and inspiring teachers. When asked, Lause said, “Our strong work on curriculum implementation and tailored intervention for ALL kids is working. Our kids at all levels, in all areas are growing. This is a place where everyone thrives.”
There is more to it than curriculum, and the team at Tubman works relentlessly for every child academically, emotionally, and socially. 95% of the students Tubman serves are economically disadvantaged, 25% of the students have special needs, and Tubman’s program differentiates for every individual scholar’s needs. Tubman also has a gifted program that meets the needs of their learners at the top of the achievement spectrum. 85% of 8th graders enroll in high-performing high schools putting them on the path to college. During the day and into the evening and weekends, students have the choice to participate in a robust extracurricular program that includes athletics, drumline, leadership council, culinary arts, gardening, and more. Field trips happen almost weekly ranging from participating in STEM programs at Tulane, to visiting the WWII Museum, to exploring a cypress forest. K-1-2 students are thriving in a unique Montessori program, developing a deep focus on academic work and the independence to nurture their own interests.
For the 2019-20 school year, Tubman will be increasing enrollment at the 3rd – 8th grade campus to meet the needs of the community and will be adding more Early Childhood options with three new PreK classes modeled on their successful Montessori K-1-2 program. Tubman is committed to providing an equitable education to every student who passes through their open-enrollment doors as they continue on their path to excellence.