What’s All The Screaming About At Meeting Street Academy?

Story by VFutrell / February 24, 2019

By Barney Blakeney, The Charleston Chronicle

A few years ago I lived near the first location of the Meeting Street Academy School on King Street. The school was across the street from my house. Each weekday morning I was awakened by the sound of children playing before classes began. It was a joyful sound. Them lil sapsuckers would run and scream like little banshees ’til their teachers herded them into the building.

I’m amazed by children – fascinated by the miracle of their growth and development. I’ve lived long enough to see a lot of children born and go through the various stages of development. It never ceases to amaze me how little ones become big ones. I saw a recent picture of Anton with gray in his beard. I remember that boy used to wake me up as he watched cartoons before going to school. I got a lot of joy watching the kids at Meeting Street Academy run and scream. Sometimes it seemed that’s all they did – run and scream. Too bad they have to become adults. You get dumber as you get older, I believe.

I found Meeting Street Academy interesting for some other reasons as well. Several of my friends had grandchildren attending the school that serves kids three-years-old through fifth grade. In a community rapidly transitioning from predominantly Black to predominantly white, and where most white parents sent their children either to predominantly white schools in other communities or to private schools, Meeting Street Academy was a private school where most of the children were Black.

More interestingly tuition cost to parents is minimal, about $600 per year. Founder Ben Navarro, a local businessman, is CEO. And thanks to the generosity of donors, individuals, corporations and foundations, Meeting Street Academy offers tuition assistance to families with demonstrated financial need and underwrites funding for the schools. Tuition is income based.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Meeting Street Academy, so I visited the school a couple of weeks ago and met with Principal Dirk Bedford, a former principal at Julian Mitchell Elementary School and Kathleen King, director of Alumni and Family Partnerships. The school’s mission is to empower young people from underserved neighborhoods to become confident, productive and principled members of society through excellence in academics. Its philosophy is to give each student as much as he needs as early as possible.

“Part of our job is to shine a light on what’s possible for kids,” Bedford said. To enable them to realize those possibilities Meeting Street Academy provides an array of resources to its students. Small class sizes allow teachers to give daily instruction in English and math during a school day that’s 30 minutes longer than those at typical Charleston County School District schools. Bedford said most of the school’s approximately 300 students stay through its 6 p.m. extended day program. Meeting Street Academy students also start the school year about three weeks earlier than CCSD schools.

They spend that extended day time engaged in various activities such as studying, being tutored and dance. It pays off. Meeting Street Academy students perform academically on par with students at ‘Excellent’-rated Buist Academy and Mount Pleasant Academy. Memphis, Tenn.-based musical director Donald O’Conner, who has worked with touring performers such as Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones, teaches performing arts to the approximately 300 students at Meeting Street Academy. All grade levels participate. Thirty-two students participate in the touring group that has performed at Moja’s opening, the Mayor’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony, at schools in North Carolina, at the Dock Street Theatre and most recently for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin L. King’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis last April.

Meeting Street Academy graduated its first fifth-graders in 2015. Since then it’s had 65 graduates. King said most graduates go on to Charleston County School Of The Arts. That’s due, in no small part, to teachers and parents. Teachers at Meeting Street Academy spend 21 more days on the job than CCSD teachers. That includes teacher development, professional development and teacher training days. About one-third of teachers are Black. The school lost one teacher last year. In 2017 the S.C. Chamber of Commerce voted the school the second best place to work.

And family involvement is most important. Parents are required to volunteer at least 10 hours per year at the school. Most give more. Bedford meets twice during the school year with each student’s guardian. The school holds two annual cookouts for the students and their families. Its student and family support services even includes pharmaceutical assistance that provides medications.

Bedford acknowledges Meeting Street Academy isn’t perfect, but it’s a model that probably should be duplicated. That’s being done at CCSD partnership sister schools – Meeting Street Elementary @ Brentwood and Meeting Street Elementary @ Burns in North Charleston. Another sister school is Meeting Street Academy Spartanburg in Spartanburg.

While not everyone thinks Meeting Street Academy is the best thing since sliced bread, without question it puts more on the table for students than a lot of primary grade schools serving predominantly Black kids. Ultimately, isn’t that what it’s all about – putting as much on the table for kids as possible? And old codgers like me, who remember those youthful days when running and screaming was all the fun in the world, get to watch ‘em play.

 

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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

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“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

  • 2/3

“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

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“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