This article originally appeared in the October 15th issue of Gambit.
Jadda Green was the 2019 valedictorian of George Washington Carver High School. She earned a full ride to Connecticut College—a scholarship of nearly $75,000 each year. And when she showed up to her first day of classes, she wore a t-shirt with the Carver High School values printed on it: achievement, kindness, responsibility, determination, teamwork, and enthusiasm.
“Those are the moments we dream of, ultimately,” said Jerel Bryant, Carver’s principal. “When our kids leave us, but still carry with them—literally and figuratively—the values we were able to bring out in them.”
Kaywon Jones, a current Carver senior, held tight to those values this past summer while attending a pre-college program at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania. He told Bryant, “I just kept repeating the core value of determination in my head. There was a lot of reading. Morning. Night. I hadn’t read that much before, but I ended up loving my professors because I was prepared with the reading. Determination goes a long way in college.”
These values have fueled real academic progress for Carver’s eight hundred students. When the state released “top growth” results this summer, which show the percentage of students at a school making “A”-level growth on LEAP from one year to the next, Carver stood out. It had the highest percentage of students demonstrating top growth in math of any open-enrollment high school serving all grades 9-12 in New Orleans. This shows that real, measurable learning is taking place in Carver classrooms.
This accomplishment is part of a legacy of excellence. Carver was founded in 1958 in the Desire neighborhood. Now it’s housed in a state-of-the-art building that’s just a few years old, but flanked by the same metal rams that stood outside the school since its founding. Today, we take a closer look at how this school with a long history is standing out for its progress today.
Bryant began leading the school in 2012, after serving as a classroom teacher at two other local public schools. Part of Carver’s success, he notes, is that it meets each student where they are: “Regardless of where you are academically when you arrive, we provide a rigorous experience. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. If you come in below grade level, on grade level, or above grade level, we set you up with opportunities. We strive to set you up to compete against anyone in the country.”
Through this approach, Bryant aims to have every child prepared for college and the world beyond. This means prioritizing academics while providing a variety of enrichment opportunities. “In the last three years, we’ve added theater, introduction to art and advanced art, digital media, culinary arts, and choir – in addition to the athletics, band, and the support teams we already had. These are all opportunities that I would want for my own kid, too.”
Behind these opportunities are a team of 100 dedicated educators. As they work to provide strong academics and extracurriculars, they’re also getting to know their students as individuals. “In a grade of two hundred students, what would it mean for a kid to have every teacher know not just their name, but their strengths and where they need to grow academically?” Bryant asks. “What would it mean if every teacher knew what team they were on, what instrument they play, or what they’re passionate about outside of school – and then remind them about tutoring that afternoon? That’s the community that we are building.”
Bryant rarely speaks of Carver’s successes as complete; reaching a goal brings the chance to set a new one. “I am immensely proud of where we are, and believe deeply in what we provide for kids. But to say we have ‘made it’ would invalidate the enormous potential I see in adults and children on this campus.”
The school has seen great progress—and has great potential—when it comes to college readiness and access. Last year, 99% of seniors were accepted to 92 colleges nationwide, including Connecticut College, Howard University, Spelman College, Xavier University of Louisiana, Dillard University, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and Loyola University New Orleans. A dedicated Collegiate Academies-wide team called CA Next works to help students persist and graduate from college once they enroll. Again, Bryant sees this area as an opportunity for growth.
“I’m immensely proud of how we’ve grown around ACT preparation and college counselling, and how we’re setting kids up to be successful beyond this place. But we’re not done yet. We are always thinking in terms of next steps.”
Bryant keeps looking forward when it comes to his vision, but the Carver community draws energy from the past as well. Whether they’re cheering from the stands at football games or marching in Mardi Gras parades, Carver’s alumni show up for their school. They’re also returning to their alma mater as volunteers and full-time educators to teach the students of today.
Today, as in the past, Bryant says, “Being a Carver ram is something students take great pride and joy in.” It’s clear there’s much to be proud of.