(WORDINBLACK.COM) – A few years ago, Jordan Spears, a promising middle school student and basketball player from North Natomas, wasn’t happy. “I don’t want to go to an all-boys school,” Jordan insisted to his parents, over and over.
Instead of his local public high school, Inderkum in North Natomas, Jordan’s parents, Jillian and Rah-nohn Spears, enrolled him in Jesuit, a private, all-boys Catholic high school in Carmichael, where 81 percent of the more than 1,000 students are white.
Jordan, now 18, had attended Leading Edge Middle School in Natomas for the school’s technology-based program, and many of his friends were headed to Inderkum.
“I just kept pushing the education offered at Jesuit,” said Jordan’s mom, Jillian Ruth Spears, a senior operations specialist at Kaiser Permanente. “I know paying for private school can be a hardship, but you get what you pay for.”
Sacramento has a varied menu of educational options, from highly-ranked predominantly Black charter schools to diverse public schools and a range of private institutions, some religious-based such as Jesuit, St. Francis, Christian Brothers and Capital Christian.
About 6 percent of all Black students nationwide enroll in private schools, according to the Digest of Educational Statistics. The Obamas sent their daughters to Sidwell Friends, a Quaker school in D.C.
Sacramento area Black families have opted for private schools for the same reasons other families do: a belief that their kids will receive a better academic experience with smaller classes, higher college acceptance rates and easier access to teachers and administrators when issues arise. Some Black families want their kids to receive religious instruction not offered in public schools.
Jordan Spears befriended several other Black freshmen at Jesuit, joined the Black Student Union and went on an 11-day mission trip to Africa and a cultural trip to France, his mom said. “He also did a lot of community service, including feeding the homeless and going on a week-long camping trip with disabled kids.”
But Jordan sometimes felt that when he and other Black students were called out, the repercussions were greater than if white kids had done the same thing, Jillian Spears said. “And when they held a mock election, Trump won and Jordan said, ‘I can’t believe you’re making me go to a school with Trumpys.’ He and his Black friends felt they were missing out because of the lack of diversity,” she added.
So Jordan researched Historically Black Colleges and chose to study computer science at Tuskegee University in Alabama, which allows freshmen to come on campus during the pandemic.
Jordan’s younger brother, Jaden, 13, attends Country Day, a much smaller, more diverse private school.
“Country Day provides COVID tests every other week and Jaden goes on campus Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so he hasn’t lost any time in school,” his mom said. “We are very thankful that both Country Day and Tuskegee are allowing in-person classes. My boys do a better job keeping up when they have face-to-face interactions with their teachers and peers.”
Over the last year, Sacramento-area public schools have had difficulty getting the thousands of students back into the classroom. Private schools, however, have returned to in-person learning or hybrid models faster than public schools during COVID.
Dr. Crystal LeRoy, a Black educator from Chicago, became president of Christian Brothers High School last July and tackled the pandemic on numerous fronts. “We provide iPads to each and every student so that there is no digital divide at Christian Brothers. This allowed us to pivot to a distance learning model immediately at the start of the 2020 pandemic, which meant that our students did not experience a disruption in their education,” Dr. LeRoy said. The school also shows struggling families the money: “$3.5 million in tuition relief and need-based tuition assistance this year because of the impacts on students of color and economic disadvantage,” Dr. LeRoy said. This figure includes “more than $560,000 in tuition relief to families directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to students and families nationwide … statistics show that people of color have been disproportionately affected, we are doing all that we can to ensure that none of our students, regardless of color, are unduly disadvantaged,” Dr. LeRoy said, including providing grade-level, wellness and college counselors.
Students of color are 59 percent of the student body – 7 percent Black, 21 percent Latinx, 20 percent multi-racial, 11 percent Asian/Pacific Islander/Filipino — “and 100 percent of our students graduate and 99 percent typically enroll in college immediately following graduation,” Dr. LeRoy said. “As educators, parents, and members of our greater community, we have to do all that we can to ensure that we are ministering to the ‘whole child,’ caring for their minds, the bodies, and souls.”
“Our nation and our school have a lot of work to do to ensure equity and access for all, especially students of color,” Dr. LeRoy added.
Nichelle Alford, a UC Davis grad, sends her 16-year-old twins, Jeron and Jaedyn to Jesuit and St. Francis high schools, “where I don’t feel I need to babysit my teachers or my kids will fall through the cracks.” While the schools have adopted a hybrid model, “both my kids have opted to stay home,” Ms. Alford said.
Ms. Alford, who works in technology, said her kids enjoy the private school experience, but it’s on each family “to get involved and get to know people from all cultures, not just your own. We’ve all learned about George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, and it’s critical to appreciate and evaluate your own heritage.”
Dr. Jo’Vel Prejean-Hickey, who said she attended Catholic schools from 1st through 12th grade, said going to Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland “provided an academically rigorous education, and I wanted to ensure I could provide the same, if not better, for my two daughters.”
Ja’Lece Hickey, 17, attends Christian Brothers, and Chloe’ Hickey, 13, goes to St. Michael’s Episcopal Day School.
“I’ve been impressed with the transition in a short period of time to remote learning, it was as seamless as possible, we got a lot of feedback as the schools tweaked the learning experience as they went along, which is not what I heard from some of my colleagues whose kids attend public school,” said Dr. Prejean-Hickey, a pharmacist.
Her daughters “understand the sacrifices we’ve made to get them to their schools on time,” she said. “We live in Roseville, and I had to get up two hours early to get Chloe’ to Carmichael and Ja’Lece to Oak Park.”
Both girls play golf, and Chloe’s on the cross-country team, which requires even more coordination. They’re often among a handful of Black or brown-skinned kids in school, “but it’s not a deterrent to their success or how they expect to be treated,” said Ms. Prejean-Hickey. She’s made a point to teach them about Black history and other cultures and wants them to get religious training that isn’t offered in public schools.
While some parents would rather save their money to pay for college or grad school, if private school increases the chances of getting scholarships, “I’d rather pay on the front end,” she said.
By Stephen Magagnini, OBSERVER Correspondent
The OBSERVER has joined nine of the nation’s leading Black publishers to come together to reimagine the Black press in America. Our first official initiative is the launch of Word in Black, a news collaborative unlike anything we have seen in the industry. The mission could not be more important: Word in Black frames the narrative and fosters solutions for racial inequities in America. The group will publish stories on important issues such as voter suppression, inequities in education and healthcare, reimagining public safety and more. The following story is part of the collaborative. For more information, visit www.wordinblack.com