What is your name?
Janeel Williams GIbson. My son Jakhi is in 4th grade in the Launch program at Stedman.
Can you tell me about who Jakhi is as a student and a young man?
He is a pretty amazing. He’s my only child so we have a close bond. He’s just a really good, well rounded child. He’s very smart. Very opinionated. He was vocal about Trump and Hilary, and about how things could have gone differently. He gets really passionate about basketball. He’s a really good reader. If he’s challenged, he reads at a 6th or 7th grade level. He reads a lot at home. But you have to push him. He’ll get books that are too easy because he can read them by memory. That’s what we’re working on right now: challenging him.
What are your aspirations for Jakhi?
That he will be a healthy well rounded individual. That he will have empathy. And patience. I want him to be a good person in the world.
What have been your experiences as a DPS parent? What have been your experiences here at Stedman?
Overall my experience in DPS has been interesting. There have been highs and lows. Jakhi has had sound, smart, knowledgeable teachers. Like Ms Romero: her experience teaching different types of kids was amazing. Any time that I’ve reached out to the district I’ve gotten good good feedback. But, I don't always think Stedman gets the attention it needs. We’ve not been staffed well. When Jakhi had a teacher, even when it was a good teacher, it was thirty, thirty five kids in a class. It was stressful for him. He needs 1:1 attention and he just wasn’t getting it. There was so much overcrowding. He would come home every day and say, “this kid was clowning all day and I couldn’t focus.” And, I’ve been concerned that there have been no black teachers and no black male teachers. Jakhi really needs to see somebody in that role. I’m just not sure that they always had the school’s and community’s best interest at heart. Recently the PTA has really taking leadership and now I feel like we have a seat at the table.
Why did you choose to enroll Jakhi in Launch?
Launch was introduced to us last year and there were good discussion about it. Initially I was concerned about it being a class full of bad kids, even though I know that behavior and academics go hand in hand and that if you want to help the kids who are struggling academically you might get the kids who also have behavior problems. I was worried about the curriculum being different and having different ages and grades of kids all in one classroom. But the main positive that impressed me was the ratio. I just thought, “my child will get his time with his teacher.” After talking with his teacher last year I knew he struggled a bit in math. The teacher kept telling me “he just doesn’t grasp it.” So I thought the 1:1 support would help him learn better and get the individual attention he needs. And, I was impressed by the fact that the program would have some separate funding and can do more. That it could do more than what the district had been doing for my child, and wouldn’t be constrained.
How would you describe your experience with Launch so far?
I am impressed. Initially I was worried. I emailed Ms. Rauenhorst a few times saying “I’m going to take him away.” I kept hearing about one student who was a disruption. Jakhi would say, “Every time we start something this kid acts up.” My son is easily distracted and disruption throws him off. So again, I was like, “is this just a place for the bad kids?” But then I talked to Jakhi and he was the one who kept me on board. He said, “Ms. Rauenhorst meets my needs. She’s amazing. She really gives me what I need and helps me.” This was a series of conversations over time. And in the end I had to listen to my child. Now I see that Jakhi is really coming into himself. Fourth grade has been a really good year thus far. He’s enjoying the teachers. He is not saying that anything is too difficult; he can do the work. Whatever they’re matching him with, it’s the right work for him. Basically i think that Mr. Darnell and Ms. Rauenhorst have Jakhi’s best interest in mind. They really care about my kid and it really matters to them that he is successful. They give him props. I don’t always just hear about the bad. The curriculum is always new and refreshing. I can appreciate that. Beforehand my experience was that school was very one sided. We’d go with concerns and we were met with resistance. So I appreciate that these teachers and this community are open minded.
Last week you participate in the first parent leadership meeting. Why did you choose to attend?
My child is here. I’m dedicated to Launch’s success. I thought, “If I can come and help I will, and if I do I might encourage other parents.” Our parents have taken a beating. They haven’t had a seat and haven’t had input. Getting myself, Ashle, Kelly, Sade, and Dane on board, we are likely to get more parents to the table. Parents like to not just hear about the bad, but also the good. So we can start telling the good stories as well.
How was your experience at that meeting?
I was excited. I was excited about the focus on how we can really treat kids like human beings. That’s pretty amazing. I was excited about the focus on giving respect, on creating a truly respectable environment. Giving respect to get it. I can appreciate that. The meeting lasted well over the time. People stayed around because the conversation was so good. These are people who care about our children and see that they have potential. These people who are getting together and saying, “here’s what we can do.” The willingness to work together is amazing. The willingness to see that the program can succeed is amazing. Dane and Sade are amazing. To hear Sade speak was wonderful. Everyone came from a different background with different experiences.
What can DPS learn from Launch?
The curriculum is awesome. Having smaller class sizes is powerful. A child can get lost in 30 kids, but a child can learn who they are in Launch. I think these particular teachers have a special set of skills. Social emotional skills. Patience with the children. They genuinely care about the kids they serve.
What is your aspiration for Launch?:
I hope that it will continue to help other kids. That it will keep doing more of the same. I would hope to see it succeed and stay around so we can really meet the needs of our kids. I would hope to hear Jakhi say he had an amazing year. And I would hope to see that he would be a level higher than where he was last year. I hope we receive funding. I think we can only continue to get better.