Tennis champion Andre Agassi joined Rocketship Education and Woodland Terrace community members to celebrate the opening of the first Rocketship Education school on the East Coast. Rocketship Rise, developed by the Turner-Agassi Charter School Facilities Fund, is located in Ward 8’s Woodland Terrace neighborhood, and has been championed as a model community-education platform, where parents interview prospective instructors and work closely with administrators to ensure academic success.

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Tennis star Andre Agassi (right), takes questions from 2nd graders at Rocketship Rise. (Photo by Shantella Y. Sherman)

Rocketship, a California-based charter operator that opened its first elementary school in 2007, gained national attention with its initial strong test scores and blended-learning approach — mixing traditional teaching with online and computer-assisted instruction — which has kept administrative costs low.

Jacque Patterson, Rocketship’s regional director, said the charter hopes to operate more like a neighborhood school than the District’s other charters. The school is required to accept applications from any D.C. child who wishes to apply, but Rocketship is focusing on recruiting students from the Ward 8 neighborhoods.

Patterson explained to the AFRO how inclusion of family members, especially grandparents who serve as head of households, has helped transition students into an educational environment bracketed on all sides by trained caregivers. “The inclusion of parents and extended family – including grandparents and aunts and uncles who are a part of the household – in the educational goals of our students allows educators to address the very specific needs of each child,” Patterson told the AFRO. “When all adults are invested, the students tend to naturally develop a love of learning. They feel secure asking questions and participating fully.”

Rocketship Rise parents Alleans McQueen, Ericka Wilson, Takisha Butler, office manager-administrator Saymah Nah, Danielle Mitchell, Tyrita Simmons, and Jackie Hopkins posed for pictures while discussing the ‘new math’ dilemma, during the ribbon cutting. (Photo by Shantella Y. Sherman)

Patterson said this was especially helpful when addressing the needs of grand families whose members may not be as well-versed or familiar with new methods of learning.

“We have many households that do not have computers or internet access, so we established a special space in the school just for parents to come, utilize computers and internet, have meetings, and familiarize themselves with certain technology,” Patterson said. “In addition, we developed a program where parents and grandparents can earn their GED – now called a state diploma – so they are better able to assist their kids and grandkids.”

Saymah Nah, Rocketship’s office manager-administrator told the AFRO that the parental engagement remains a strong selling point to parents who want more than a state-of-the-art facility. “From the naming of the school to the hiring of school meal vendors, teachers, and administrators, the parents have had a voice. It was explained very early on that this is not a space that ‘empowers’ parents because they already have the power,” Nah told the AFRO. “Our job is to help them use that power to advocate for their children.”

The brand-new 58,600-square-foot building will serve 758 students in pre-k through 5th grade at maturity. The campus includes 26 classrooms, three special education classrooms, a learning lab, two cafeterias, a gymnasium, nurse’s suite, multi-use agora space, two playgrounds, and a nature trail. The state-of-the-art facility is certified LEED Platinum.

“Excellent education beginning at the elementary school level is critical to continued success in college and in life,” said Andre Agassi, the fund’s co-managing partner and CEO of Agassi Ventures. “This state-of-the-art facility and new permanent home of Rocketship Rise Academy will make a real difference to the historically underserved young people in the Woodland Terrace community and become a beacon in this community.”