How can we Find a Way to Narrow the Educational Gap? Rocketship Schools Weighs in

“They find a way,” says a parent, when talking about Rocketship Schools, a non-profit that establishes schools in low-income communities on the notion of eliminating the achievement gap too characteristic of today’s school systems. Rocketship addresses those gaps in student achievement that are traceable to family incomes and proximities to stellar schools.

Whether “the way” is improvising an emergency fund to provide a safety net for parents and children who are flushed out of their homes by a natural disaster or finding the touch points to transform a student constantly assigned summer school and remedial classes into a graduate at an esteemed college or university, they find it.

In the case of an immigrant family from Mexico whose Rocketship school operates in San Jose, Rocketship found a way to help them and many other Rocketship families whose homes were ruined on February 20th when the water from nearby Coyote Creek ran over its banks and into surrounding homes.

The flood served as a sobering reminder to everyone in the vicinity of how “everything can change in one day,” as stated by a mother of three, one being a three-month old baby—the others a 10-year-old and a teenager. “You never expect (this) to happen to you,” said the mother, who shared the plight of 14,000 others in their community who were ordered to evacuate their homes or apartments via boats from emergency and disaster teams.

Rocketship, which operates nearly 20 schools in three states and Washington, D.C., sprung into action once parents started losing their furniture, food, and homes to the flood. Families needed temporary housing, help with rental deposits for new housing, assistance with paying insurance deductibles as well as new clothing, food, and other household supplies.

It innovated a way to provide the help that parents of Rocketship students—called “Rocketeers”—needed by quickly networking with Catholic Charities. In the end, Rocketship raised $62,000 through the agency that often helps communities throughout the U.S. with disaster relief.

Through Rocketship Schools’ quick response to the needs of 30 families from nine of their Bay Area schools, wage earners from those families could continue working because they weren’t left homeless and without essentials. Moreover, kids remained fed and clothed to continue their education in a state of good health, so essential to effective learning.

Said the mother of three, whose husband works from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day, “I never thought it would be Cesar’s school who would be there supporting us in our darkest moments.”

She said she believes that without the help of Rocketship, they would be without a place to live, food in the cupboards, clothing or any sustainable income as a result.

Cesar is the woman’s 10-year-old and Rocketeer at Mateo Sheedy Elementary School. The names Rocketship and Rocketeer serve to remind students and their families that anyone can rise to new academic levels, or beyond, that others in less challenging living situations reach.

Rocketship schools not only empower such students through teachers who specialize in critical studies (i.e., STEM: sciences, technology, engineering and math) as well as humanities, but through familiarizing its teachers with students’ families and providing the personal instruction these students need to excel.

Cesar’s mom, Dulce, exemplifies the close connections between parent, child, and school that Rocketship facilitates and promotes. While being interviewed, she rattled off the names of Mateo Sheedy teachers and staff who delivered meals, clothes, and other exigencies to her family. Her son recites the “Rocketship Creed” every morning: “I am a Rocketship Rocketeer at home, at school, and in my community.”

Home and community are integrated with academic practices at Rocketship schools, whose vision is to “eliminate the achievement gap in our lifetime” by serving as a catalyst for transformative change in low-income communities, as stated in their mission. They deem their partnership with parents as imperative to closing the gap of academic achievement in the nation.

Teachers are actually required to visit the homes of the children they teach periodically. They can therefore grasp the histories, challenges, and situations inherent to these families. With this knowledge they can better personalize the education to the child’s own life experiences.

The numbers seem to substantiate Rocketship’s modus operandi. Marie Gill, Rocketship’s ‎Bay Area regional director, cites these public charter schools’ English and math scores. For instance, on state standardized tests this past year, Rocketship’s Bay Area schools notched an achievement rank in the top 10 percent of California elementary school districts serving low-income areas. Rocketship believes their teacher-student-family connection fosters such achievement.

The parent of a third-grader at Rise Academy, a Rocketship school in Washington, D.C., states, “I like to be included in my child's learning process. I like to know what's going on with them so that I can be supportive at home, and to me, the charter model just has been the most beneficial.”

She adds, “Learning doesn't just happen in the classroom, and I believe that teachers and parents and schools should have a strong partnership. For me, it's about finding the best partner for my kids so that they can be the best that they can be.” And for many children and their families, Rocketship definitely is that perfect partner.


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