ELA Alumni Open Charter School for Underserved Students in New Orleans
New graduates don’t often leave school and immediately open their own dynamic learning institution, but that’s exactly what alumni Kristin Moody and Channa Cook did when they launched Sojourner Truth Academy, a charter school for underserved students in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Moody and Cook met as teaching colleagues at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies in the Los Angeles Unified School District. At the time, Moody was enrolled in the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology program for a Master of Science in Administration and Preliminary Administrative Services Credential, Educational Leadership Academy (ELA), which she completed in the winter of 2006. Moody’s successful experience with the program inspired Cook to apply, and she completed her degree in the spring of 2007.
Moody had always dreamed of opening an alternative high school, and that was one of the primary drivers of her enrollment in ELA. “The program, as a whole, was integral to my feeling comfortable pursuing and defending a project as extensive as Sojourner Truth Academy. My teachers’ support of my project and belief in me boosted my confidence and inspired me to pursue a path of leadership. I became aware that I was able to accomplish whatever I set my mind to accomplish.”
In contrast, Cook never thought she would be opening a school the year after finishing her degree. But while Moody was the catalyst for the idea, both alumni were fully committed once they visited New Orleans in March 2007 for a volunteer trip. While there, they both saw the need for quality education, high expectations, and a supportive environment for adolescents. They were disappointed to see so many teenagers treated as if they could not succeed. Of the experience, Moody says, “We came home from the trip and took all the best practices we had heard about and witnessed firsthand, and compiled them into the rough draft of Sojourner Truth Academy.”
Sojourner Truth (formerly Isabella Baumfree, 1797-1883), the namesake and role model for Sojourner Truth Academy, was a woman who took on multiple roles in her life: activist, abolitionist, suffragist, orator, pioneer, and mother. Drawing from Truth’s masterful ability to pursue a balance between self-improvement and community uplift, Moody and Cook incorporated into Sojourner Truth Academy a system of higher education that would encourage students to become aware of the community around them and find ways to make an impact by helping others.
Moody describes Sojourner Truth Academy as “an open-enrollment high school that will prepare its students for college and to be leaders for positive change in New Orleans.” Moody explains the significance of such a categorization: “An openenrollment high school with high expectations is relatively unheard of in New Orleans. As a result, we have higher than average numbers of at-risk and historically underserved students. The challenge is great, but the students are already exceeding our expectations. These kids are redefining themselves, and we can’t wait to see how they change their own communities with the new tools they’re being given.”
In addition to cofounding the school, Moody and Cook retain leadership positions in the administration; Moody acts as operational support, while Cook acts as principal. Cook says that her participation in ELA contributed to what she has created at Sojourner Truth Academy: “The overall emphasis on leadership, rather than administration and management, is what was most important for me about the ELA program; as an instructional leader at Sojourner Truth Academy I remind myself that leadership is my main goal.”
Sojourner Truth Academy is off to an inspiring start. The school year began with full rosters and a long waiting list—impressive for a new charter school. Moody is confident that the future looks bright: “There is no question that Sojourner Truth Academy will not only make its mark in New Orleans as a school that enables at-risk students to lead their communities and go to college, but will also show the rest of the nation the power of well-trained, thoughtful teachers and administrators, when coupled with kids who refuse to give up.” For more information on Sojourner Truth Academy, visit http://www.nolatruth.org/.