Capturing Attention: Meeting Street Academy Shines on National Level

Story by VFutrell / March 19, 2019

Original article HERE
It’s not every day that the CEO of a national corporation walks through the doors of Spartanburg’s Meeting Street Academy to see what all the buzz is about.

But that’s exactly what happened when Greg Carmichael, CEO of Ohio-based Fifth Third Bank, spent the morning there to learn how a public-private partnership that combines academics with character-building helps kids improve their odds in life.

Students at Spartanburg’s Meeting Street Academy. Photo by Kavin Bradner

The brainchild of Charleston businessman and philanthropist Ben Navarro, the two-story academy in the heart of downtown is one of four Meeting Street schools in the state getting rave reviews, largely due to student performance on standardized tests that far exceeds the national average.

In 2016, the academy, which opened four years earlier, entered into a partnership with Spartanburg School District 7 to enroll children in the Highland, Hampton Heights, and downtown neighborhoods. This semester, 247 students ranging from age 3 through fifth grade, the vast majority of them black, make use of Meeting Street’s mix of curriculum and inspiration.

“I hate to put a percentage on it, but in many cases I almost feel like it’s 50-50 academics and character-building in the way that we approach education,” said Claudia Albergotti, the academy’s community liaison.

“The academics are incredibly important, but we also need to be preparing our students for success in general, and so the research tells us that there are a number of character traits that can be learned and built upon and are not necessarily innate traits, that we can help students learn and grow and develop over time,” she explained.

Those traits – grit, curiosity, self-control, citizenship, gratitude, empathy, optimism, and integrity – are woven into conversations in classrooms and hallways and are spelled out on colorful posters throughout the academy’s bright surroundings.

Teachers, selected by Meeting Street and not the district, also have the autonomy to change curriculum, Albergotti said, with two instructors per classroom in an academic day that stretches from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

“So we’re not locked into a specific curriculum. If something doesn’t seem to be working or clicking with our students, then we have the ability to quickly look at other potential options and evaluate whether we should change something,” Albergotti said.

Meeting Street’s educational model appears to be paying off for its students, many of whom are visibly energized, easily interact with visitors, and rank high on tests administered across a spectrum of schools ranging from private institutions flush with cash to neighborhood ones.

A classroom at Spartanburg’s Meeting Street Academy. Photo by Kavin Bradner

On average across its four-school system, Meeting Street students rank among the top in the country when compared with scores at 15,000 elementary schools nationwide, placing in the 90th percentile in reading and 92nd in math, according to 2017 testing.

Community and business buy-in

To maintain momentum, staff members head out to students’ homes at the start of each school year.

“We need to understand where this child has grown up, who their people are, what their neighborhood is like, what they’re going home to, and in turn, I think, that opens up a lot of communication between our parents and our teachers and allows us to be much more productive in the way that we can work together to make sure that we’re doing what’s right for all of these students,” Albergotti explained.

In addition to family involvement, Meeting Street Academy is supported by individual patrons and community partners who underwrite programs, provide medical services and recreational opportunities, or volunteer their time. District 7 reduces overhead by providing transportation, food, and maintenance services along with per-pupil funding for households in the attendance zone.

Each week, volunteers from Carolina Foothills Federal Credit Union are on-site to guide students as they work as managers and tellers at a mock bank, counting money and engaging in bookkeeping.

To date, a total of $34,000 is parked in students’ accounts to help meet the cost of higher education.

“These are not accounts that can be withdrawn from easily,” Albergotti said.

For its part, Fifth Third Bank began its relationship with Meeting Street several years ago after a client made its commercial banking staff aware of the innovative work being done there.

“And so, some of their local bankers came and explored Meeting Street and were really struck by what we were doing and developed a passion for wanting to partner with us and help in whatever way they could,” Albergotti remembers.

Charles Arndt, who heads the bank’s middle-market office in Greenville and whom Albergotti calls “a huge supporter,” helped bring together students from Furman University and the academy.

About three years ago, Arndt, who serves as a soccer coach at Furman, arranged for team members to visit Meeting Street. The group shared their insights on discipline and motivation before kicking around a soccer ball with students and getting better acquainted.

A student at Spartanburg’s Meeting Street Academy. Photo by Kavin Bradner

Now, each year, students from one campus visit the other, “and it was powerful for our students to be able to sit in that kind of environment and contribute, and see what a college class is all about,” Albergotti said.

When Carmichael dropped by last month, the Fifth Third CEO spent time speaking with the academy’s administrators about the overall philosophy behind the school before visiting classrooms.

“That was an amazing visit, just to watch what they’re doing at that school, the way they approach education,” Carmichael said the afternoon of his visit. “It’s really remarkable what they’re accomplishing over there, and the evidence and the outcomes that they’re getting are just tremendous.”

Albergotti said, “I think it’s always wonderful to have someone who sits in a completely different state and has communication access to a lot of other markets … but our hope is also that we can start to have bigger conversations about how this model can be emulated in other places and how it can make a bigger impact, and that’s something that we’re very excited about.”

 

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About Meeting Street Schools

Meeting Street Schools (MSS) is an innovative non-profit where schools, families, and the community collaborate to create environments where all children can achieve their full potential. With a network of schools across South Carolina, including MSA-Charleston (Charleston, SC), MSA-Spartanburg (Spartanburg, SC), MS-Brentwood (North Charleston, SC), MS-Burns (North Charleston, SC), and MS-Jasper & Beaufort (Jasper, SC), we are committed to providing students with the rigorous education they deserve.

Founded on the principle that every child deserves an excellent education regardless of their socio-economic background, Meeting Street Schools has been a beacon of hope and a testament to what's possible in education. Our schools are driven by a strong focus on student achievement, evidence-based instruction, and relentless support of our students and their families.

While united by our shared mission, each MSS campus, is unique in its character, tapping into the local spirit of the communities they serve. Explore each of our schools and discover how they're creating a brighter future for students in South Carolina.

News & NotesFrom Clemson University to Master Teacher and Player Coach: Emily Godwin

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Our Schools

MSA – CharlestonDowntown Charleston, SC - Independent School - Since 2008 - 364 Students

Nestled in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina, MSA Charleston is more than just a school—it’s a hub for innovative learning and community engagement. As part of the Meeting Street Schools network, MSA Charleston embodies a commitment to excellence through its rigorous academic programs, inclusive culture, and focus on developing the whole child. With a curriculum that emphasizes both academic and personal growth, MSA Charleston prepares students to be curious learners and active citizens of their community.

MSA – SpartanburgDowntown Spartanburg, SC - Public School - Since 2012 - 323 Students

MSA Spartanburg stands as a pillar of educational innovation in the Spartanburg community. The school’s dedicated educators and supportive learning environment ensure that each child receives a high-quality, personalized education with exceptional faculty and teachers. MSA Spartanburg is distinguished by its emphasis on community partnership, fostering relationships that extend beyond the classroom to build a strong foundation for lifelong learning and success.

MS – BrentwoodNorth Charleston, SC - Public School - Since 2014 - 694 Students

MS Brentwood is a place where education meets opportunity. Serving the Brentwood area, this school is a testament to the transformative power of education. With a student-centered approach that celebrates diversity and encourages excellence, MS Brentwood is dedicated to equipping students with the skills they need to thrive in the 21st century. MS Brentwood also serves as a hub for the Brentwood community to access educational and wellness services. The school’s commitment to innovation, coupled with a warm, welcoming environment, makes it a standout in the MSS network.

MS – BurnsNorth Charleston, SC - Public School - Since 2018 - 478 Students

Located in a community rich with history and culture, MS Burns is renowned for its dynamic educational approach that intertwines traditional learning with modern teaching techniques. The school’s focus on experiential learning ensures that students at MS Burns are not only recipients of knowledge but also active participants in their educational journey. MS Burns exists to spark an educational revolution for the students and families in the Dorchester-Waylyn Neighborhood in North Charleston. With a commitment to creating a supportive and challenging academic environment, MS Burns is forging a new path in public education.

MS – Jasper & BeaufortJasper County, SC - Public Charter School - Fall 2023 -

MS Jasper represents the Meeting Street Schools’ dedication to community-based education with a global perspective. The school provides a nurturing environment where students are encouraged to explore their potential and cultivate a love for learning. With its diverse programs such as Eureka Math, and Wit and Wisdom, MS Jasper puts a major emphasis on character development, specialized learning and equips students to become thoughtful, engaged members of society, reflecting the MSS ethos of empowerment through education.

CommunityVoices

  • 1/3

“MSA is a family. Once you’re in, you’re in. They said they would follow our kids from K-3 to college and they actually lived up to what they said they would do. Not only did MSA challenge my daughter academically but it also exposed her to new things that she probably wouldn’t have been exposed to at our previous neighborhood school. Our journey at MSA was exciting and rewarding. They actually walk the walk.”

— Tyeka GrantParent

  • 2/3

“We come into work everyday truly believing that our students are capable of achieving anything that is put in front of them. Here at MSS, students are provided the opportunity to achieve success through the facilitation of well-educated teachers, resources, and a responsive classroom school environment.”

— NikToshia GilesTeacher

  • 3/3

“Meeting Street Academy is my family. They taught me that I am valuable. I am an asset to the world…They asked me, ‘What is your dream?’ I had never been asked that before. The MSS community gives me the strength to pursue my dreams.”

— Kadelyn SteedStudent