Urban Scholar Academy was born of the frustration of teacher, mother, and Urban Scholar Academy Co-Founder and Executive Director Alexis Coleman. Each year, students arrived in her classroom, unprepared for the grade-level studies. Meantime, Coleman’s son was unable to obtain tutoring within a reasonable distance from home. The issue here was, in Coleman’s opinion, a lack of equity in education for the students of Inglewood and South Los Angeles. Coleman was determined to change this dynamic.
We were impressed with the positive outcome of her efforts, along with those of co-founder Imhotep Coleman. It was only natural that we would lend a modest helping hand to Urban Scholar Academy through our small grant program. We spoke with Alexis Coleman to learn more about this work:
Kars4Kids: Can you tell us a bit about your demographic?
Alexis Coleman: Our student body is 95% African-American and 5% Latino, 60% female and 40% male.
Kars4Kids: During the 2019-2020 school year, students in your tutoring program grew 0.5-1.0 grade level despite school closures. To what do you attribute this success?
Alexis Coleman: Our tutoring program includes a diagnostic assessment, progress monitoring every eight weeks, and individualized tutorial support from our staff, which is comprised of teachers and college students. As an award-winning certificated teacher, I create a student action plan for each student. Additionally, I meet 2-3 times a year with the parents on the progress of each student.
Kars4Kids: Tell us about the name of your organization “Urban Scholar Academy.” It looks like this name refers to three different tracks or services. Can you clarify?
Alexis Coleman: “Urban” refers to the location of our services and the students we target, many of whom live in the city of Inglewood and South Los Angeles. “Scholar” refers to the academic rigor (tutoring and enrichment) we provide to students to enhance their level of proficiency in math, reading and science. “Academy” refers to the learning facility we provide (5,100 square foot facility) where students come to receive academic assistance to help them thrive.
Kars4Kids: How does your distance learning program work? Do you have students from different schools with different curricula?
Alexis Coleman: Since August 2020, twenty-seven students have come to our learning facility, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m.-6 p.m., to receive supervision, access to technology, meals, and academic support with their online distance learning activities. The students are from various schools in our area. Our staff and high school volunteers assist these students on a daily basis.
When students have completed their school work, we also provide enrichment activities: assigning them book reports; distributing Time for Kids magazines; and providing i-Ready math and reading accounts to the students in order for them to master state standards, on completion of which they earn a “Fun Friday,” complete with game consoles, air hockey table, arcade machines, tablets, pool table, and concession stands.
Kars4Kids: How does your homeschooling program differ from your distance learning program? Are the students in your homeschooling program learning with a parent?
Alexis Coleman: Our homeschool program is different from distance learning in that our certificated teachers provide supplemental instruction (math and/or reading) to homeschooling families. Homeschool families provide the science/social studies instruction and electives in their homes. Our in-person distance learners have a teacher online from which they receive instruction.
Kars4Kids: Can you describe some of your community service projects for us?
Alexis Coleman: Our scholars have participated in the following community service projects: the provision of Thanksgiving meals for homeless, beach and park clean-ups, recycling, garden beautification, and a Christmas give-away. In the future (May 2021), we will be partnering with another organization (Grace and Wisdom Institute) to ensure we continue our community service initiatives—an important part of our mission.
Kars4Kids: Urban Scholar Academy offers seasonal camps. Can you tell us a bit about these camp sessions?
Alexis Coleman: Pre-COVID-19, our seasonal camps involved the following components: recreation and swimming activities, exciting field trips in and around Los Angeles County, fun and engaging math and reading activities with international themes, and project-based learning opportunities such as entrepreneurship, filmmaking, yearbook, LEGO animation, drones, hands-on science, and filmmaking.
Kars4Kids: The Urban Scholar Academy website says that “education is not equitable, but it is essential.” Can you talk about this? What is equity in education, and how can we make education more equitable?
Alexis Coleman: I was motivated as a teacher to start Urban Scholar Academy in 2012 because I got tired of teaching students who came to my classroom with an appalling lack of background knowledge. As a mother, I was also frustrated at having to travel outside my neighborhood in order to receive tutorial support for my sons. Hence, Urban Scholar Academy was born to ensure that African-American and Latino students, such as my sons and the students I taught, had the academic support to be successful in and outside of the classroom. The programs that we created were designed to ensure every child had an equal chance to acquiring academic proficiency no matter their socioeconomic background.
Kars4Kids: Tell us about your Homework Club. You’re transporting students from local schools to your facility. How many students from how many schools? What types of activities take place in Homework Club aside from homework?
Alexis Coleman: Prior to COVID-19, we picked up forty students from approximately 8-9 local schools from a 1-3 mile radius, and transported them to our academy learning facility. When students arrived, they received assistance with their homework, participated in enrichment activities such as science fairs, arts and crafts, and science experiments, and were also fed supper. In addition, on a quarterly basis, students took fun field trips within the Los Angeles County area. This program will resume in the fall with COVID-19 restrictions in place and with a small group of students.
Kars4Kids: What’s next for Urban Scholar Academy?
Alexis Coleman: For the 2021-2022 school year, we will be offering in-person and online support for our distance learners, supplemental support for our homeschoolers, and we will resume our homework club program. Additionally, we will launch the Urban Scholar Film Academy in September 2021. Led by Imhotep Coleman, my business partner and a television and film director, this two-year program will teach 15-18-year-olds the art of filmmaking and will also include a youth film festival for the city of Inglewood.