Written by Cesca Janece Waterfield. Photographed by Maryam Khosravipour.
As technology allows faster communication between more people, the world stage seems to grow smaller while those who thrive on it demonstrate cross-cultural skills. One high-profile example is President Obama, who experienced an unusually international upbringing, growing up in Hawaii, Indonesia, and American cities. His wide appeal reflects a cultural awareness that he developed as a youth. Regardless of how the global economic climate shifts in coming years, one thing is certain: tomorrow’s leaders will be diverse and culturally competent.
Nubian Village Academy in Northside was established with this knowledge. For eight years, the Academy at 2022 Sledd St. has operated with the mission of providing holistic, academically challenging, and culturally relevant education to students aged pre-K through grade 8. There is evidence to support their practice of age-blended classrooms utilizing personalized lesson plans.
Aseeya Rael is the Academy’s co-founder and Executive Director. Although she holds a Masters degree in Education, she says the birth of son Kedar, who is a student here, reinforced her goal of designing this kind of educational program. “Our whole program is geared toward teaching culture,” she says. “We are an international school. We start out with Africa, because all cultures came out of Africa and branched off.”
Teachers are required to travel and the Academy sponsors trips every 18 months. Aseeya says, “We’ve gone to nine different countries so far, including Egypt, Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico, so that when they’re teaching the students, they have first-hand experience.”
Throughout the school, signs identify items in five languages; Chinese, Spanish, Swahili, English, French. Every classroom is named after a village in Africa. “Village Values” are posted, encouraging character development, and the children learn each statement in American Sign Language. Martial arts, mediation, tai chi and yoga fulfill physical education requirements. Every summer, a nine-week program focuses on arts and literature.
The Academy also takes children and parents on several school-sponsored trips, including to a 600-acre black-owned farm. They also take children and parents to Wintergreen Resort every fall for a team-building weekend. And last year, they took students on 14-state tour of the country, and camped out in the Grand Canyon.
Collaboration between students, parents and the community is integral, and volunteerism is required of parents and students. “Our keys to students’ success are our parents,” Aseeya says. “The teachers and the community all work together to assure the success of the children. Our parents have to volunteer a minimum of five hours a month in the school. And the students volunteer in the community. We’ve participated in every disaster relief that affected the city from Hurricane Katrina, Isabel and Hurricane Gaston. We also participate in the Ukrop’s 10K every year and the SunTrust marathon where we pass out water for the runners. It’s mandatory that they serve about 55 hours during the school year.”
Volunteers and interns from Virginia Union University and Senior Connect provide cross-generational mentorship. The African Student Union of Virginia Commonwealth University works with the academy, and Aseeya says, “We are in the process of forming a partnership with the University of Richmond.”
Kwame Binta is on the Board of Directors. “We want to give them a good foundation here, of their culture, so they know who they are and their esteem won’t be damaged,” he says. “Unfortunately, the images we see of ourselves, and of African children, are mostly negative. If you don’t learn your history in school, you’ll never know it. You’ll only know what the TV tells you. We try to give them positive images so when they look in the mirror, they can be proud of who they are.”
With a certificate in Substance Abuse Counseling as well as a degree in Community and Social Services, Kwame underscores the importance of civic responsibility: “We try to teach them to give back to the community to embrace who they are and take pride. We want children to take ownership of their communities.”
After graduating from VSU, teacher Veronica Davidson was a counselor in a correctional facility. But she came to believe that earlier intervention could have a powerful positive impact. “I said, something’s got to be done here,” she recalls. “Let me get to them before they come to jail.” So she began teaching, first in Dinwiddie County and later in Richmond Public Schools. In 2005, she came to the Academy. She says that her experience in public schools has shown her how valuable a program like this can be, both academically and socially.
“In a blended classroom setting, they’re getting pre-exposure, [for example] to advanced math,” she says. “Or for older kids who may be a bit behind, they get a review when I’m working with younger children. The smaller classroom settings help the child focus a lot more. It helps me a whole lot. I can zoom in on each child’s need. I know for a fact that the smaller classroom tends to work.”
She emphasizes the value of personalized lesson plans: “I’ve been able to create portfolios per child and build upon that from September up until June. The parents can come in and look at where their child is. They use that binder as a review process over the summer.”
Veronica believes that children who value their own culture and recognize it in a global context are poised to soar. “Once you get drenched into the culture and you start to feel proud of who you are, I think it’s an awakening for a lot of children,” she says. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Nubian Village Academy 2009 Summer Program
The program begins June 22 and ends August 21. The nine weeks are divided into four two-week sessions and a one-week reading clinic. These sessions include day workshops and afternoon activities and field trips. The program hours of operation are Monday- Friday from 8am-4pm. All workshops, activities, and field trips are designed to meet Virginia SOL requirements. For cost information, contact 329-3900.
Session 1: African Drumming/Cultural
Session 2: International Dance
Session 3: Visual Arts and Photography
Session 4: Performing and Literary Arts
Afternoon Activities & Field Trip Themes
Week 1: Hapi About Science Village
Week 2: Music Village
Week 3: Space Village
Week 4: Health & Fitness Village
Week 5: Culinary & Etiquette Village
Week 6: Global Village
Week 7: Media Village
Week 8: Literacy & Writing Village
Week 9: Back to School Reading Clinic