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Today’s Fresh Start charter school sits in the midst of the Lemiert Park area, where poverty seems to be at war with impending change. Here, as it is in a number of L.A. County areas, homeless camps are juxtaposed with construction, which will inevitably lead to a more upscale environment.  Inside the school, the students are being prepared for the changing world, one that will challenge their basic as well as technological sensibilities.

 

“We have a mission,” Dr. Jeanette Parker TFS principal and founder explained to the Sentinel during a recent interview.

 

 

 

 

“Our mission is to teach each child individually according to their personal best academically and socially and emotionally. We pursue that mission. We know each child who is here at our school and we want to help each child achieve his or her personal best…”

 

Learning is of the utmost importance there, she said, so much so that even the teachers get lessons, Parker said.

 

“[First and foremost] we teach the students how important learning is,” Parker explained.

 

“Our environment is like a small community. We have a low teacher child ratio and our teachers are all highly qualified. We also teach our teachers. We teach them beyond their area of expertise and teach them how to teach the students.

 

“We use the latest in educational technology and we teach them to be tech savvy. Our text books are all state approved and other materials we use that are state approved…”

 

“We tell them, ‘while you’re here take advantage of these people who are here caring for you and caring about you and people who are watching you and helping you achieve your goals.’ We’re very nurturing to the children and they need nurturing.”

 

Education has always been a part of Parker’s life. As early as age 10 in Birmingham, Alabama, she was commissioned to teach the younger children in her vacation bible school and in Sunday school. Teachers would also want her to tutor her fellow students in the classroom.

 

“In retrospect, I can see that this was something I’ve always done,” she said.

 

“I was always doing something involving education. My mother was also in education. She would go to the school and go around to the classrooms during American Education Week and represent children whose parents didn’t come…”

 

Her mother wanted to open a school of her own but that dream never materialized. Meanwhile, Parker, perhaps unknowingly, began on a path that led to just that. She didn’t dream of it, she said, rather as an undergrad, she thought about being an accountant or an anthropologist.

 

But perpetually calling her, was educating others. Here in Los Angeles, she began at underserved schools. She focused on students who were having trouble, she said.

 

“I started tutoring children at Audobon Jr. High,” Parker recalled.

 

“I would teach the children on Saturdays.  At Saturday school, the parents really wanted something for their children. I wanted to help them. I got a grant to buy computers. I bought them and gave them to Horace Mann, Audobon and Marlton.”

 

Tutoring segued into Parker’s founding of the Golden Day preschool in L.A. and then to TFS. TFS was formulated during the early charter school movement here. It followed and continues to follow the ideal model of a charter, which is a publically funded public school (without tuition, religious affiliation, or selective student admissions) that operates much like a private business—free from many state laws and district regulations, and accountable more for student outcomes rather than for processes or inputs (such teacher certification requirements).

 

The school accommodates students from kindergarten to eighth grade, with a focus on preparing them for high school and college.

 

“We prepare them emotionally,” said Parker.

 

“We teach them to respond in overwhelming environments [like high school] and to focus on their work and to not be derailed by insignificant things.”

 

TFS demographics are about 55 percent African American and 45 percent Latino. Educators there are conscientious about each student’s needs, Parker said. They employ a variety of educational strategies according to student response and they allow them to learn at their own pace.

 

“[Educating children] doesn’t come easy,” Parker said.

 

“You have to really want to do this, really want to care. Some people think it’s a lot of money but it’s not.  It’s something you do from your heart.  We’re here because we’re committed to the task of teaching the children.  We’re here to build lives.”

 

Parker credits her husband, Dr. Clark Parker, with supporting her in her efforts. Her latest project is a nonprofit called [RESCUE OUR CHILDREN] ROC, the fatherless movement “to bring back the hearts of fathers and mothers to the children, to provide counseling for children traumatized by divorce and separation from their parents,” she said.

 

(Photos by Valerie Goodloe)

Category: Cover Stories