Books focusing on Black history and pride fill the shelves of a library. Along the walls, there are posters about historical Black figures, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, and there’s even a Juneteenth flag proudly hung in the center of a classroom.
Walking around the Joy Village School, a K-8 private school opening in August 2022 that centers on the joy and thriving of Black youth, you can already see the work that goes into making the environment a place where Black students can learn and thrive. And although the school will focus on the thriving of Black youth, children of all races are welcome to attend.
Why It’s Newsworthy: Lora Smothers, founder and director of Joy Village School, launched the school in March 2021 because she had seen and heard enough about Black students not having their needs met in Athens-Clarke County schools.
According to Achievement gap at CCDSThe performance of Clarke County School District students on the 2019 Georgia Milestones reflects that African American students at SDCC performed well below the state average and below their peers in the student group in the whole state.
At the same time, according to Student discipline in the Clarke County School Districtan analysis of trends and disproportionality in disciplinary offenses and consequences from 2014 to 2018, “African American students represent the majority of disciplinary offenses and that African American students represent 50% of CCSD enrollment, but 80% of students are referred for disciplinary offences. ”
The CCSD declined to comment at this time.
While working in local private schools, Smothers observed that there is a lot of black culture in these spaces that are not allowed. For example, they were supposed to make sure kids weren’t listening to rap or wearing balaclavas, and Smothers felt like those kids couldn’t be themselves.
Smothers says there is a lot of black community disenfranchisement that is hard to overcome in our current school systems.
“My goal is that as we move away, we can kind of build this little realm of positivity that can then serve as an example to some of the other schools of what’s possible,” Smothers says.
History of Race and Education in Athens
In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. School Board that state-sanctioned public school segregation violated the Fourteenth Amendment and was unconstitutional.
“It shook the world. This particularly shook the South. And so there was an effort to resist the failure of the order,” explains Fred Smith, the Director of the Athens East Development Center, which is Athens badorned and elevated and oversees the Athens Black History Bowl.
In Athens in particular, says Smith, that in the 1950s several schools were built and for the first time the state invested a large sum in the education of blacks, which happened in large part from South.
In September 1963, Smith said the Athens local school district offered freedom of choice, which meant students could decide whether they wanted to attend previously all-white schools, so a few black students began attending these schools.
In 1970, integration fully arrived in Athens when the white school, the Athens high school, and the black school, Burney-Harris High School, combined to form Clarke Central High School.
Smothers points out that she had learned in schools that integration was a good thing, but it was not always the case because there was a lot of grief since their schools were forcibly closed.
Smith says one of the results of integration was that black students began to be tracked to lower levels classes, which is a trend he saw at least in the 90s when he worked as president of the local NOTAACP in Athens.
According to “Black Segregation Matters”, throughout the country, desegregation was long-lasting and peaked in 1988, but since then tapart from intensely segregated minority schools, which are schools that enroll 90-100% non-white students, fell from 32.1% in 1988 to 40.1% in 2018, showing the trend towards re-segregation.
“Fast forward to the 80s and 90s. I mean some people would call integration a failed project, because around that time a lot of white families started moving elsewhere, like Oconee County. And then there was this re-segregation of our schools, which we see fully now,” says Smothers.
Black students are far more separated from white students today than in the civil rights era, according to “Black segregation is important.”
According to American University School of Education, this segregation problem makes Predominantly black schools continue to face economic, social and structural challenges that predominantly white schools do not.
Today, Smith and Smothers agree that the education system is not working as it should.
The beginnings of Joy Village School
In June 2021, Smothers began organizing pop-up schools at different sites of historical significance to the black community in Athens.
Smothers said she chose the pop-up schools because she read the history of black education and discovered that during the Reconstruction era, women would make pop-up schools anywhere, like in Woods.
A pop-up school she did was at college where Smothers said she would read books, play games, tour the grounds and ask community elders to come talk about what it was like to be there. to organize citizens to integrate the university.
“It was really designed to be this interactive learning experience where kids and their parents got a taste of my philosophy of education,” Smothers said.
It then progressed by holding camps in the fall of 2021, Smothers said, and instead of just being a pop-up Saturday morning school, kids came for a day or two to have a full learning experience.
Smothers said she found the school’s location in October, which is at 320 Research Drive, and began pre-leasing the building in January. Soon after, they began the process of hiring teachers and enrolling students.
How the school will operate
“I’ve always dreamed of having a school that felt like school in the morning and summer camp in the afternoon,” says Smothers.
Smothers says students will do their core subjects in the mornings, but in the afternoons she wants to expose students to as many different disciplines and activities as possible, such as music, poetry, foreign languages or sports. With this, she also spread the word to the community for people to come and share their skills with the children during this time.
In the afternoons, when students go to their labs, they will go into multi-age groups called houses.
“They will actually be divided into houses, Harry Potter style, to do their optional activities. But our homes will be named after some of the last black neighborhoods here in Athens, like Lennintown,” Smothers says.
Smothers is very excited about this school cultural piece because she wants students to feel a personal connection to local history centers that they can take home with them.
The main subjects students will focus on will be language arts, math and black history, but Smothers says her goal is for students to learn in an interdisciplinary way.
Smothers says school funding comes from donors, corporate sponsorships, grants and fundraisers.
According to Joy Village School ManualTuition fees for the school vary depending on family income level and payment plan options.
Smothers says the response at school has been very encouraging and everyone she has spoken to has been very supportive.
Currently, there are 40 students on the waiting list, but Smothers’ goal is to have 100 students. Smothers does not think this goal will be difficult to achieve, especially since the school is in partnership with the Pinnacle Scholarship Fund, contribute to making school more accessible to all families.
Joy Village School is also in the process of being accredited by the Accreditation Commission of Georgia.
Smothers plans to expand the campus. She wants to eventually own the property the school is currently on and acquire more so the school can continue to grow.
Ultimately, Smothers wants the school to be a sustainable institution, but she also wants families to feel relieved that their children have a place where they can thrive.
“I think our school is just going to have a buzz in the air. I think it’s going to be filled with movement, laughter, dance and art. I’m just imagining Miss Frizzle’s classroom but Black,” Smothers says.
Erin Johnson is a senior journalism graduate with a minor in fashion marketing and a certificate in new media studies.