“We deeply believe that our communities can do more to help young people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder rise up in their lifetimes.”
By Jonathan Johnson, Founder, Rooted School
I discovered my why during the middle of my third-grade year. After coming home from playing with friends, I walked into the sound of my mother crying because she and my father were going to lose the home I grew up in. Our neighborhood, a middle-class cul-de-sac in Anaheim, California, was gentrifying and my parents could no longer afford the rise in fees. I was deeply angered by this. Then my anger became a seed. From that moment on, I devoted my life to the possibility for other children like me to have a better life than their parents. The chance of this potential is what inspired me to found Rooted School Foundation six years ago and apply to open a new public charter school in Vancouver, Washington by fall 2022. If we are successful with our local community partners, this will be the first charter high school launched in Vancouver history with the goal of preparing students to earn a college acceptance in one hand and a full-time job offer in the other.
Four years ago, I helped found the first Rooted School in New Orleans. At the time, New Orleans was a tale of two cities. The median income for white households was $64,377 compared to the median black family’s $25,806. We know the impact that difference will create for young people 20 years from now. Every aspect of their lives, from access to quality healthcare and education, to wealth they are likely to accumulate over the course of their lives will be strained with minimal opportunity for upwards mobility the older they become. We believed then as we do now that young people, within the same community, should not grow up living worlds apart because of differences that are beyond their control. In six years of building a school around this idea, we also know that this story is not unique to one city.
After its first four years of building a first-of-its kind high school in partnership with the New Orleans community, the Rooted School team has built a school that is recognized as one of the 143 most innovative schools in the U.S. by Transcend Education and the Christensen Institute. They are projecting an 89% graduation rate for its first graduating class—12 percentage points higher than New Orleans’ highest average since Hurricane Katrina. Eight out of ten seniors have earned at least one Industry Based Credential in the technology sector and they are projecting that nearly one-third of their seniors will earn living-wage, entry-level jobs in the technology sector directly from high school. Additionally, in August 2020, Rooted School Indianapolis became the second school added to our family and was the earliest out-of-state school replication in public charter school history. These are unprecedented feats for an organization before its first graduating class and we believe we can continue that success with the Vancouver community.
To date, we have engaged over 100 Vancouver and Portland stakeholders including local educators, politicians, faith-based organizations, and community-based organization leaders to learn about their desires for a new high school. Citizens across Clark County have consistently affirmed the need for a model that ensures all children have a fair chance at financial freedom while addressing growing local workforce needs in STEM fields. Below is a snapshot of what our team has come to learn about where the Southwest Washington community stands.
- Southwest Washington projects 1,700 annual openings in IT, healthcare, and manufacturing over the next five years. However, there is a shortage of homegrown talent to meet this workforce need.
- Meanwhile, there is a vast gap between the educational and career opportunities provided to white students compared to students of color and with learning disabilities towards meeting the growing workforce need. This has been long-standing with little movement in a positive direction.
- Bold and innovative solutions are needed now to ensure that all youth have a fair chance at financial freedom before local companies look elsewhere to meet their future talent needs. Currently, no high school in Vancouver offers this opportunity.
With your help, we believe there is a role that Rooted School can play in addressing this. If we are given a chance to bring Rooted School Vancouver to life with the Southwest Washington community, we are proposing a first-of-its-kind high school in the community that has the following features
- A high school that has a small, family feel: 125 students at full size, with a 1:9 adult to student ratio.
- A public, non-selective, open to all students, with free transportation
- Students will graduate with a full-time job offer in one hand, and a college acceptance letter in the other
If what I shared inspires you and affirms beliefs that you hold about what is needed for young people across Washington, I ask that you join us for our Virtual Public Forum on Thursday, November 18 at 6PM.
Learn whether or not Rooted will receive its charter to open a school in Vancouver on December 17, 2020. If approved, we will start our journey to open our doors by Fall 2022.
We deeply believe that our communities can do more to help young people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder rise up in their lifetimes. Together, we can ensure that all rise.