Minneapolis sustains a less than enviable standing when it comes to educating students of color. Indeed, Ceresi Wilburn Foundation for Children reported in 2019 that Minnesota’s 2016-17 graduation rates for African American and Hispanic students placed dead last among the 50 states.
The national graduation rate for Black students in 2019 was 77.8%. In Minnesota, that rate finally improved to 65%. Still, the steadily worsening COVID-19 crisis threatens to increase an already disastrous disparity. Schools have closed, leaving youngsters subject to instruction by parents who may not have done well in class themselves and, in any event, aren’t professionally trained teachers.
Accordingly, in North Minneapolis, Harvest Best Academy (HBA) partnered with Summit Academy OIC for an innovative mobile lab dubbed The Beast. “In the past,” said HBA board member Anura Si-Asar, “Black students have been on the bottom of every educational statistic such as graduation rates, standardized test scores, and college admissions and completion rates. Our students en masse are not reaching their potential in our current educational system in the U.S.
“So we were struggling before COVID, and now we have regressed educationally to where we are hardly receiving any education. It’s like a flashback to enslavement, where we had to create our own freedom schools and midnight schools to educate ourselves.
“This is how bad it is right now,” continued Si-Asar. “We must be as creative, innovative and determined as possible in order to address this educational desert in our community right now.”
Central is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) curriculum that goes out to the students, since they can’t come to the school. Si-Asar added, “Currently HBA has limited space and doesn’t have room for a science tech STEM lab. However, we are trying to create a STEM corridor for Near North Minneapolis. This Mobile Innovation Lab is the key to reaching our community in these trying times.”
Eric Mahmoud, Harvest Preparatory School and Seed Academy founding executive director, underscored, “We will be able to take STEM projects right to neighborhoods in the community.” He added, “It’s really to keep that interest, kept that spark going. And give our students what they need in order to succeed.”
Louis King, Summit Academy OIC president-CEO, stated, “While it is unfortunate that the Minneapolis Public Schools got $31 million in funding for COVID relief and did not invest any money in supplemental measures for the children, the community has come together and provided $2,000,000 in partnership with the Minnesota Business Partnership and firms that include U.S. Bank, Excel energy, and Securian to name a few.
“We have sites in North and South Minneapolis and are providing learning pods and zoom tutors for over 300 children. These sites include the YMCA, Friendship Academy, Zion Baptist Church and others.”
It is, of course, imperative that the endeavor pass muster with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). Accordingly, it adheres to MDH’s 2020-2021 Planning Guide for Schools, “Health Considerations for Navigating COVID-19.” An excerpt from the 22-page document reads, “We developed this document to provide pre-K through grade 12 (K-12) school leaders guidance around policies, practices, and strategies that districts and schools must implement and recommendations they should consider to optimize education and promote health and safety, while mitigating risk throughout the school year.”
In compliance with these guidelines, the mobile work stations are separated by plexiglass and the lab runs HEPA air purifiers as well as providing masks and face shields. The mobile lab is not only for HBA students, but for Northside students in general. Features include studies in 3-D printing, cyber security, robotics, coding and math.
“Our next challenge,” said King, “is to prepare to help the children who have had no classroom instruction for 18 months after COVID passes.”