During opening ceremonies last week, officials at the newly established Bertha B. Williams Academy (BBWA) in Southeast Washington, D.C., said they look forward to the facility eventually becoming a model for similar efforts across the country. Until then, “It will be an exemplary model academy for poor students like those who live east of the river,” said founder and board member Lois Williams.
BBAW, which is located in the educational building at God Memorial Presbyterian Church on Minnesota Avenue, is tuition-free and caters to underprivileged children from pre-kindergarten through second grade living in the Anacostia community. The school is named after Williams, an educator who dedicated much of her career to training disadvantaged students, and is solely supported by private donations, fundraisers and grants.
When classes start Sept. 26, each of the 80 students will be provided a personal education plan that, aside from offering a curriculum, fosters communication, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
However, plans call for increasing enrollment to 200 and adding classes for students up to sixth grade over the next three years. While officials will focus on providing individualized attention with low teacher-to-student ratios, they’re poised to eventually evolve the school into a charter facility.
Williams, who is married to the school namesake’s oldest son, Anderson Williams, said the facility spawned out of concern for problems that often plague children in Ward 8, including a gaping disparity in achievement between African-American and White children attending District of Columbia public schools.
Anacostia’s majority Black community, represented by Councilman Marion Barry, is often described as the city’s poorest neighborhood. With the poverty rate exceeding 36 percent, at least half of its children have been classified disadvantaged, and last year, according to a recent city demographics profile, more than 31,000 residences received food stamps.
“We plan to address these problems by providing excellence in education to inner-city youth,” Williams said. “We believe in providing every student access in learning with a strong commitment to educating children from all walks of life.”
BBWA board chairwoman Leah Humphrey added that officials also intend to provide “a high-quality” school that will serve as a model of success for students throughout the United States in communities like Anacostia. “We have an excellent board and we’re totally committed to serving the needs of the children,” Humphrey said. “We want the absolute best for them [and] we want to provide the resources, intellect and the spirit that’s necessary to lead them.”
Other than a simple application form there’s no long, drawn out enrollment process.
Scott Pearson, director of Public Charter Schools for the U. S. Department of Education, expressed sentiments on behalf of President Barack Obama.
“We should treasure, support and embrace [BBWA] as [an important] fabric of your lives and the president supports that,” Pearson said. He said formation of the school has challenged the status quo. “In the best way possible by [adhering] to high standards that its officials are willing to be judged by,” said Pearson. “The school is part of a strong and growing movement. It’s different and that’s the whole point, because we want choice and diversity.”