Are HBCU Elementary Schools a New College Pipeline?

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  • The first HBCU-inspired elementary school opened its doors in 2022.
  • It is critical for students to see and learn from more teachers who look like them.
  • Academic rigor and Black historical and cultural knowledge can enhance achievement.
  • Learning tools to overcome academic disparities can align with higher education success.

Becoming Collegiate Academy, a college preparatory elementary school modeled after historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), opened its doors in fall 2022. Located in Jacksonville, Florida, this tuition-free, public charter school wants its students to graduate ready for an HBCU education.

Becoming is the first elementary school inspired by HBCUs, initiating the possibility of a new pipeline in higher education. Other schools are following suit, using the values of an HBCU education in elementary settings.

Companies and corporations nationwide focus on increasing diversity, many by recruiting directly from HBCUs. However, focusing on the educational pipeline that brings Black students to HBCUs is territory worth investigating.

Could Becoming Collegiate Academy be the start to an HBCU-inspired elementary school movement? And how can schools like Becoming distinctly advance Black students in higher education?

We Must Support Black Students' Education

Cameron Frazier, Becoming Collegiate Academy's founder, began his career as an English teacher before moving into leadership roles. The Freedom Fellows Institute, which supports leaders of color to create schools in their home communities, helped Frazier found his HBCU-inspired school.

As a college-prep school, Becoming showcases HBCU flags and memorabilia throughout the building. Teachers educate students on Black history and leaders, cultural awareness, and representations of Black life around the country.

One goal for Becoming is to prepare its students for success in college and in life from an early age. According to Frazier, it is critical that young students have role models who look like them. Becoming offers an opportunity for students to see themselves in their teachers and to be academically motivated by Black adults.

Like HBCUs, Becoming provides a supportive and nurturing environment for Black students. Within the environment of an HBCU-inspired school, youths can develop cultural and racial identities alongside academic and intellectual rigor.

The focus on identity gives students the opportunity to understand societal issues and histories regarding race and Blackness.

Atlanta Unbound Academy, a public charter school founded by Alaina Chipman-Leeks. A Spelman College graduate, Chipman-Leeks developed a curriculum that centers culturally rich instruction, critical thinking skills, and emotional development practices.

Few primary schools provide students with such direct understanding of Black history on a community level. These foundational understandings can help Black students better grasp how historical actions impact us today and work toward self-empowerment and academic success.

HBCU Elementary Schools Can Help Close Achievement Gaps

Most Black students do not encounter Black teachers during their elementary school years, according to a 2017 IZA Institute of Labor Economics study. Schools that focus on the education and uplifting of Black students have a unique opportunity to close achievement gaps.

With HBCU-centered elementary schools, like Becoming Collegiate Academy, more students can aim for HBCU readiness. Academic rigor paired with Black historical and cultural knowledge can help students advance academically.

As is true at Becoming and Atlanta Unbound, HBCU elementary schools could focus on hiring talented Black teachers. According to the same IZA study noted above, low-income Black male students who learn from Black teachers are 39% less likely to drop out of high school and 19% more likely to desire a college education.

Organizations and studies, including the Brookings Institution, note the importance of hiring and retaining Black teachers. It is critical for Black students to see and learn from more Black teachers in their primary years. HBCU-aligned elementary schools could hire Black teachers, highlighting their importance to Black students.

Systemic educator bias from many non-Black teachers toward Black students is a serious issue in classrooms across the country. Teachers with lower expectations of Black students may not offer them the same academic opportunities that non-Black students receive — a major disservice to Black students.

HBCUs provide students with tools to overcome academic disparities. Teaching these tools to elementary school students can offer a pipeline from a young age directly aligned with success in higher education.

A New Pipeline for Higher Education

Attendance at HBCUs has increased in recent years. Between 1976 and 2020, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Black enrollment at HBCUs increased by 11%. Applications to HBCUs increased by nearly 30% between 2018 and 2020.

The popularity of HBCUs in recent years is a major boost for the institutions and the development of schools like Becoming Collegiate Academy. Schools seeking to increase higher education opportunities for Black students benefit from the attention given to HBCUs.

HBCUs provide a social environment and academic setting where Black students excel. According to the United Negro College Fund, 50% of HBCU graduates later attend graduate or professional schools. Seventy percent of all Black doctors and dentists, 50% of Black engineers, and 35% of Black lawyers graduated from an HBCU.

Providing a pipeline to an HBCU education can be transformative for Black students. It should also be noted that 40% of HBCU students are first-generation. Space is created to help all students succeed.

As Becoming Collegiate Academy is teaching us, students need the right tools and preparation to excel. Becoming's insight seems a fitting motto for this new college pipeline: What we prepare for, we become.