Phyllis Student at Anna Julia CooperIn an unassuming brick building, there are students hard at work on their second day of school. The halls are quiet, heads are buried in books or bent over desks writing. The uniforms are new, the floors are clean and in each classroom, you see eager, determined faces. There’s the scent of “beginning” in the air. Children seem to feel great about their future.

Mike, the headmaster, roams from classroom to classroom in this small school, checking in on students and teachers. He proudly shows off a recent addition to the lunchroom and says to me “we can all be in here together now with plenty of space” as if he was talking about a family gathering around the dinner table. After all, it is a family. It’s the family of students and teachers at Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School. As Felicia, mother of India, said to me: “this school is concerned about our entire family. Through the school’s parenting group, I’ve been able to get on my feet and I’m now working. My daughter is in 8th grade and is busy visiting schools in hopes of applying for a scholarship to attend a private high school. This school has made all the difference for us.”

Anna Julia Cooper, AJC for short, is located in a public housing section of Richmond City, one of the poorest areas in the city. These students are attending an independent school because of the generosity of folks who donate to make it happen- year in, year out. Individuals and companies who donate money every year so that this small school of 4th through 8th graders can educate students without regard for their ability to pay. What about the parents, you say? 100% participation at parent conferences. Yep 100%. This stat is not an error.

Let’s start at the beginning of the story about Ann Julia Cooper School. In 2009, a group of folks came together with the idea of starting a school in Richmond City with St. Stephens Episcopal Church as the catalyst. The idea was to plant a school in an area where kids who needed an opportunity could get it. A real opportunity without having to travel across town. In 2009, AJC started with 25 students in fifth and sixth grades. Today, it boasts 108 students in grades four through eight. With a student- teacher ratio of between 18:1 in the elementary grades and 12:1 in secondary, students get lots of individual attention. As 8th grader, Phyllis said: “I love being a small school with small classes. I get a lot of attention from my teachers” Did I say that the students wear uniforms that the parents pay for? I was impressed.

So how do these kids perform? They do quite well, thank you. Expectations are high, and parents understand their kids have an advantage not available to everyone. They are both grateful and determined to make the most of this special chance at success their kids are getting.

As 8th grade approaches, the transition to high school begins. Anna Julia Cooper allocates two staff members to see that graduates of their school transition and achieve in high school. Some students return to their home high school and some attend private and parochial schools. The students know that there will be help as they make the change to high school. Appropriate course placement, transportation to another independent school, and arranging tutoring help if the kids need it are just a few items that the staff at Ann Julia Cooper organize to ensure ongoing success.

How have the students fared? AJC has graduates who have gone on to four year colleges including the University of Richmond, Randolph-Macon, Old Dominion University and Virginia State. Several have joined the military or been accepted into institutes, including West Point. Others are studying in community colleges or have entered into full time employment in the work force. ALL of them are better for having been afforded the opportunity to attend a wonderful school like Ann Julia Cooper.

Why did Education United do this story? Because while many Virginians don’t know about it, there is a program designed specifically to help students just like the children who go to this school. It’s called the Education Improvement Scholarship Tax Credit program. Learn more about it here. We all want to know more about education options in Virginia!

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