Challenge the status quo and push for change.
That's what the founder of Meeting Street Academy Ben Navarro told a crowd of several hundred people Tuesday at Memminger Auditorium.
"We know what works to educate under-resourced kids," Navarro said. "But making change happen on a broad scale, changing the entrenched status quo is very, very hard."
Navarro, whose company Sherman Financial Group funds the private school Meeting Street Academy, was among 20 speakers, artists and performers featured at the 2nd annual TEDxCharleston, a day-long event aimed at sharing inspiring stories and ideas.
The event gave a rare glimpse into Navarro's vision for the school.
"Everyone should have a chance to attain their version of the American dream," he said. "Unfortunately for many children given the schools they're required to attend, it's not possible."
Navarro pointed to some troubling statistics about the challenges facing low-income and minority students in South Carolina. He said of the state's 725,850 students, 54 percent, or 395,033 children, qualify for free or reduced lunch. Of the 1,100 African-American students in Charleston County schools who qualified to take the SAT, only 568 did so and only 31 students met the test's benchmarks.
"The problem isn't the kids," Navarro said. "The problem is the system. It doesn't work for under-resourced kids."
Meeting Street Academy opened in 2008. A second Meeting Street Academy launched in Spartanburg in 2012. The Charleston campus serves students from age 3 through fourth grade who are primarily from low-income families.
The academy provides year-round education with an extended school day and options for extra-curricular activities.
The idea behind Meeting Street Academy is to get students in school sooner and engage them more consistently.
"If you catch them up early, they'll stay caught up," Navarro said.
Navarro urged the "silent majority" to push local school leaders for change.
"At the next school board election, take a hard look at who's running your schools," he said.
Speaker Andrew Roskill, whose software company BiblioLabs provides libraries with digital products, talked about digital library resources potentially providing a bridge "between the haves and the have nots" through better access to library materials as well as digital training.
The goal for libraries, Roskill said, should be to curate their digital materials, including special collections and archives, to provide "relevant products" so they can "continue to be here for those who need them the most."
Reach Amanda Kerr at 937-5546 or at Twitter.com/PCAmandaKerr.
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