116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success is celebrating its largest graduating class this summer — 15 students who are headed to college this month.
Yemurai Tavaziva, 18, a Kennedy High School graduate, said The Academy taught him about aspects of Black history and culture he wasn’t aware of in high school.
“You learned as a student in The Academy program more about yourself and how that connects to American history,” Tavaziva said.
“It’s a safe place to interact with other students of color who are striving for academic success, and helps contextualize why things are the way they are,” he said.
Tavaziva is going to Iowa State University to study aerospace engineering.
The Academy provides students an education they can't find in a public school classroom. It teaches students about Black history, literature, math and science and has a postsecondary seminar to help students prepare for college and how to be successful once they get there.
It is a rigorous, six-week summer program, and teachers expect excellence. It has been educating Black students in Cedar Rapids for over 30 years.
Ruth White, founder of The Academy, said this year’s graduates “exemplified” its mission: to be productive citizens and gain academy skills within a rigorous, culturally specific curriculum.
Many of the students — who graduated in May from their high schools in the Cedar Rapids and College Community school districts — have attended The Academy during the summer for three or four years.
They all are off to college this fall — including Princeton University, the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa and Kirkwood Community College.
Cameron Davis, 18, a Kennedy High School graduate, spent four summers at The Academy. People are what makes The Academy great, he said.
“Being able to talk and share your experience with others — that was the awesome part,” Davis said.
It taught him how to form an argument and look at both sides, he said.
Davis is attending Kirkwood Community College this fall to study business management and marketing. He plans to transfer to the University of Iowa to finish his degree.
Travell Wright, 18, is a graduate of Cedar Rapids Washington High School and also White’s grandson. He spent four summers at The Academy and heard many of the lessons from his grandmother growing up.
He is going to the University of Iowa this fall to study engineering.
In his years at The Academy, Wright became “more aware” of who he is and the ways he has to be more careful in this world than his white peers, he said.
“There’s always that danger of me being spotted as someone who is up to no good or seem like the type of person who would cause more trouble,” Wright said.
Even so, Wright is hopeful for the future.
He is “adamant” about police reform and critical race theory being taught in schools so “history doesn’t repeat itself.”
The Academy is continuing to educate students in third through 12th grade.
The Academy started offering a new program this year for students not available to participate in the day program.
RISE — Radical Intervention Toward Self Awareness — is an evening class that met twice a week this summer.
“The core mission is to encourage students and show them what their heritage can mean for them and how it strengthens them in terms of interpersonal awareness and academically,” White said.
Last year, The Academy launched the African American Awareness Program at all six Cedar Rapids middle schools.
The students meet with a site leader and work on Black history, literature, self-confidence and self-respect, White said.
White said she hopes the students in the African American Awareness program are excited about the possibility for a special program that can “strengthen” them.
“Middle school can be treacherous,” White said. “We want to provide a platform, safe space and place where students can be and form friendships and learn about their culture and themselves.”
The Academy also oversees a program for elementary students at Johnson STEAM Academy and is looking to expand to more elementary schools.
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