Charter school makes waves
Victor Quintanilla Jr. enjoys dinner with his sister, Vanessa, mother Anna and father Victor Sr. in San Pablo on Sunday. Making Waves Academy began as an after school educational program serving African-American students, but now the demographic is comprised of mainly Latinos. Christian Urrutia / The Advocate
English teacher Kassandre Harper-Cotton explains a homework assignment in her first period class at the Making Waves Academy located on Lakeside Drive in Richmond on Jan. 28. Christian Urrutia / The Advocate
RICHMOND - "Since my brother came here, he's improved in school," seventh grader Miguel Hernandez said, "He would get C's mostly and now that he's here, he has choices on where he wants to go to for college."
Nestled in a corner, behind high concrete walls and chain link fences, between Richmond Parkway and San Pablo Avenue, stands an institution dedicated to improving the lives of economically disadvantaged students.
San Pablo resident and parent Victor Quintanilla said, "I like the academy because of the education. They teach students how to be respectful to others, no nicknames and these kids are paid attention to."
Making Waves Academy's chief executive officer Alton Nelson said his theory of action is that schools are the hub for a solid community and connections for the students and parents validate the school.
"Access to rigorous education for communities in need is a must have and a city like Richmond deserves to have a high quality public school," Nelson said.
Director of Communications Krista Martin said, "These kids were not provided the same opportunities, and so over the course of 20 years we were able to mold a stronger program."
The Making Waves Education Program began in 1989 when investment fund manager John H. Scully and Rev. Eugene Farlough decided that they wanted to improve the educational environment for impoverished youth in Richmond.
It started as a yearlong after school program for fifth-12th grades, where teachers in schools within Richmond who were eligible would nominate students they felt were academically advanced and if accepted, placed in tutoring and mentoring environments.
Forty-six fifth graders were the first wave in Richmond. Since then, Making Waves has opened an education program in San Francisco and built a permanent academy at Richmond on Lakeside Drive in 2007.
Martin said, "Making Waves Academy is one of the premier schools in the area. Most schools around Richmond are well below the 800 score line."
The California Academic Performance Index measures the academic performance and growth of schools on a variety of academic measures. Making Waves is ranked at 822 out of 1000 on average compared to West Contra Costa School Unified district's average of 717 based on 2013's API results.
"What we're doing is clearly working," Martin said.
"This school takes care of its students. The staff at Grant Elementary, where I was before, was not as dedicated and the school wasn't as clean," Hernandez said. "There is a lot of competition with other smart students, but it gives you motivation to do well in class."
Fellow seventh grade student Carol Luna praised the strict no bullying policy, saying it makes her feel safer to come to school.
"Staff here have better control over their students and so if you're rowdy, you are out," she said.
Sixth grader Amari-Lynn Brown said, "It is so different because when you move up a grade and do well at the same time, you notice it, unlike my other school where it did not feel important. This place is like gold."
Yasir Alkaheli, also in sixth grade, said, "I had problems before because of distracting people and here (disruptive) students are placed with non-talkative students and that way they're able to pay attention and not talk."
When asked about the coursework, fine arts teacher Stephen Von Mason said, "The higher the expectations, the higher they climb and I don't believe in teaching to the middle and lower expectations."
Science teacher Karen Bush agreed. "We expect the students to reach our standards and hold them to it," she said. "That is our constant expectation. We don't fool around. Kids are here and ready to go and we do not want to hold back kids who are ready to flourish."
The academy practices extended hours within the school day, which many students find beneficial.
"We get a whole period just to do homework and many students help each other out," sixth grader Victor Quintanilla Jr, whose sisters were both part of the Making Waves Education Program, said.
Nelson said, "Our charter targets specific kids in Richmond. We prioritize students who have siblings enrolled in the school and most kids who come here, tend to stay."
But Vanessa, one of Victor's sisters says otherwise.
"The (education) program I feel was a lot better than the academy, and when the middle school was opening, most of the people involved with the program were fired," she said.
She cites the lack of communication between counselors, directors and tutors with students that deteriorated once the academy was established along with the failure to keep in contact with current college attendees.
"If you ask anyone who was in the program before they would say it's changed."
"Of course kids who weren't in it say it's a different learning environment compared to other schools," she said.
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