“Our goal is for them to be prepared to be service leaders.” These are the words of Jermain Cooper, superintendent and executive director of T.R.U.T.H. Preparatory Academy in St. Paul. It is a relatively new school — the academy doors were opened in the fall of 2016. It is currently serving just under 200 K-5 students.
Ninety-eight percent of their students are African American. Ninety-six percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Cooper says they have a high percentage of students who are on Individual Education Plans. “We really deal with students that have some trauma that has happened. So, we are working with them. We really approach education through a holistic approach. We are [helping] them not only through academics, but ensuring their whole person — mentally, physically, spiritually — that they are whole and in a place to learn.”
To deal with behavior concerns, the staff tries to stay away from suspensions and utilize other options such as the meditation room, doing one-on-ones, and working to build personal relationships with its young people. “We have heard from visitors that we are sort of replacing the role of family, and that was kind of the goal when we started this,” says Cooper. “We really want to provide the support the kids need to be successful.”
A native of St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, Cooper attended St. Agnes until 10th grade. He then transferred schools. Unsuccessful in private schools, he started attending Minnesota Business Academy (now closed, formerly located in the Science Museum) after seeing it when driving with his mother in downtown St. Paul.
Cooper told the MSR, “It was actually because of that school that I was able to get my grades up and was able to go off to Johnson C. Smith University. I majored in psychology and criminology and minored in political science. From there I received my Master of Science in human behavior from Capella University. I am currently in my last year of my doctoral program at St. Mary’s, where I am going for my doctorate in education and leadership.”
After his bachelor’s degree, Cooper states, “I climbed up the corporate ladder. Eventually I made my way back to Minnesota. I saw the need that was going on in my community. We have a high unemployment rate. We have a high achievement gap, which is probably one that is the worst in the nation.
“I wanted to find a way to give back to the community,” Cooper says. “So, I found that through education, and kids [are] really my passion. So I began the process to develop what is now the T.R.U.T.H. Preparatory Academy.
In terms of growth, they plan on, “adding another grade level per year. We are looking for a second site in the St. Paul Promise Neighborhood, [hoping] to open in the fall of 2017. Eventually we plan to serve Pre-K through 12th grade, actually.”
His mission and vision ultimately for the next generation is for them to become leaders. “When they leave T.R.U.T.H. they need to be fully ready to lead, not just being college and career ready, but to be able to lead our community [to its] next destination, to our next level of greatness. That really starts with us and telling them who they are in their history. We go beyond just regular textbooks. We believe in culturally friendly curriculum.”
For the month of February, students get the opportunity to connect with Black leaders in their respective fields. Rena Moran, was the kickoff speaker on February 8. Students will also get to participate in Spirit Week, where they can dress as their favorite African American person in history.
T.R.U.T.H. Academy also has an upcoming Black History Month event on February 28 sponsored by Elsa’s Furniture Store. Robin Hickman will be the keynote speaker. This event will be led by the academy’s fourth and fifth grade students, who will present their research on a project about Black Wall Street in the historic Greenwood Community of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
For more information on T.R.U.T.H. Academy, contact the school at www.truthmn.org or 651-401-5830.
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