Senior Academy prepares scholars for life

InspireNOLA offers Senior Academy to prepare scholars for life after high school
Posted on 02/03/2020
A student’s senior year of high school is filled with milestones from prom to graduation to choosing a college, and InspireNOLA Charter Schools wanted to make sure that its seniors were not only prepared for these moments, but also help them celebrate these events.

This year, InspireNOLA instituted its Senior Academy, a year-long initiative that joins nearly 600 students from Edna Karr, Eleanor McMain, and McDonogh 35 together as they journey through their last year of high school.

“We wanted to do something different for our seniors. Your senior year of high school is so important. Students feel the pressure of balancing all the social highlights they look forward to all through high school with the knowledge that graduation is right around the corner and that they will be making decisions that will impact their future,” Jamar McKneely, InspireNOLA CEO said. “We wanted to let them know how special this time is, and that we as a network would be there with them, guiding them every step of the way. Our scholars and their families do not have to take this journey alone. They not only have our staff for support but also nearly 600 other families and peers going through the same thing.” 

The program — which encompasses leadership development, college readiness programs, career days, guest speakers, enrichment opportunities, and community involvement —
was introduced with Senior Induction. Students and their families from all three high schools gathered in Mahalia Jackson Theater at an event designed to mark the start of their senior year for the momentous occasion it is. Guest speakers from alumni to college administrators to local politicians spoke to students about what the year will hold for them.

“It is our hope that the InspireNOLA Senior Academy will serve as the support system our students need to activate their dreams into reality,” Timolynn Sams-Sumter, director of Engagement and Impact for InspireNOLA, said. “For many, senior year will be filled with lots of emotions and uncertainties. They are on the brink of making some of the biggest decisions of their lives. The purpose of Senior Induction and Senior Academy is to exhibit wholeheartedly that we, your village, will use this year to motivate, encourage and inform as seniors and their family about the pathways to their college and career choices after graduation.”

Senior Academy activities have included ongoing support such as financial aid application nights, ACT prep and practice tests, college visit and one-on-one career and college counseling, as well as larger events, such as college fair days, touring Whitney Plantation, bringing in guest speakers, alumni panels and more.

In October, InspireNOLA held a Common Black College Application Day, where students and their families could receive help applying to more than 50 colleges for free. 

In January, InspireNOLA hosted Let’s Geaux to College Day, an event that offered seniors and their parents 12 workshops on everything from Financial Aid 101 to choosing a major to college persistence strategies. The panels were led by Louisiana Office of Student Financial Aid, representatives from Tulane and Dillard, as well as community organizations such as Down for Knowledge and local businesses such as Jefferson Financial Federal Credit Union.

“We want to provide additional support to our students and families, many of which will be first generation college students,” Sams said. “The Academy is preparing our parents, as well as our students, as to what their college experience will be like.”

In addition to college preparedness, Senior Academy also offers students the opportunity to meet leaders in the community who are challenging status quo. 

Taj Johnson, McDonogh 35 senior, said connecting with community leaders has had a huge impact.

“Senior Academy has helped me prepare for college because I get a chance to meet important people and experience even more great things outside of the classroom,” Johnson said.

Recently, students had the opportunity talk with Russell Ledet, Sydney Labat, and Rachel Turner, three of the fifteen Tulane medical students who recently skyrocketed into the national spotlight when a photo of them standing in front of the slave quarters at Whitney Plantation while wearing their white medical coats went viral. They spoke with students about the importance of changing the narrative around what careers they can aspire to and that they need to set the example and break the barriers for the generation that comes after them.

“The Senior Academy has opened my eyes about different career opportunities,” Destiny Davis, a McMain senior, said. “I was particularly excited about having the 15 White Coats speak to us because I really would like to go into the medical field.” 

Additionally, InspireNOLA also announced partnerships with regional colleges as part of Senior Academy: SUNO, Dillard, Delgado, Wiley, Mississippi Valley State University, UNO, and the Common Black College Application.

Not only have representatives from these schools have spoken to students and offered workshops and guidance throught the year to prepare for college, they are also partnering with InspireNOLA to make sure that once students are accepted into college, they stay there.

“We are working with colleges and universities that will provide additional support to our students who enroll in their schools,” said Talia Pennington, InspireNOLA’s College and Career Specialist. “It’s all about helping them persist and graduate in four years.”

In May, InspireNOLA will hold a Senior Signing Day ceremony, where scholars will have the opportunity to share with their community their plans for life after high school. 

“As our students make their announcements of intent, we want to celebrate with them,” McKneely said.  “These students deserve to be recognized in front of their family and friends for committing to their future, whether it be continuing on to higher education, the military, or starting a career.”
The Senior Academy will conclude with graduation and the Class of 2020 taking the next step on their journey to college or the start of their career.

The seniors of InspireNOLA have said that Senior Academy is helping them become well-rounded scholars, both academically and socially and has readied them for the path that lies ahead.

“Senior Academy helped me prepare for college by helping me interact with all different groups of kids from multiple schools,” McMain senior Catia Gordon said.

Edna Karr senior Karrington Smith credits this initiative for building confidence and expanding opportunities and aspirations for all the scholars.

“Senior academy has taught me how to stand when everyone is sitting,” Smith said. “It also taught me that the sky is the limit.”