By Nehemiah Frank, Founder & Editor-in-Chief
LaTeria Stokes, a 12-year-old from Sapulpa, Oklahoma is headed to Washington DC to attend the Junior National Young Leaders Conference (Jr.NYLC). She’s one of the few lucky students from across the US who will have the honor of attending this prestigious conference.
She’s a straight A student at Sapulpa Middle School and possesses an academic intelligence that’s comparable to a highly focused Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate high school student.
On last year’s 5th grade Oklahoma State exam, LaTeria placed advance in English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science.
Her nickname — at the previous school she attended, Sankofa School of Creative and Performing Arts — was “baby genius,” partly due to her height of being second shortest in class but also because of her Katherine Johnson-like ability to quickly calculate 5th and 6th grade math practically in her head without the need of having to use scratch paper. Needless to say, she’s becoming a hidden figure in her own right, and she’s also grown a few inches since 5th grade.
Her mother, LaShawn Stokes credits her daughter’s academic success to Deborah Brown Community School (DBCS) and Sankofa School of Creative and Performing Arts — a school also founded by Deborah Brown.
Mrs. Stokes enrolled LaTeria in DBCS’s pre-K program when LaTeria was just 4-years-old.
Mrs. Stokes said that she chose DBCS and continued LaTeria’s education in the Sankofa extension program because she likes the fact that both schools boast environments of high academic achievement, daily cultural affirmations, and discipline — essential elements needed to make learning possible for children.
“I just wanted to make sure that my kids weren’t around a bunch of people who were going to lead them down the wrong path,” she explained.
Mrs. Stokes said that she believes that most of the public school teachers in Tulsa appeared overwhelmed with too many students and thinks the curriculum isn’t challenging enough for the students. And Mrs. Stokes would know, having attended Tulsa Public Schools.
“They just kinda worked with the students that picked it up quickly. It didn’t seem like they had the time to ensure that all of the students received a proper education,” Mrs. Stokes said.
She also had fears of her children being bullied in public schools and knew that DBCS and Sankofa wouldn’t tolerate bullying at their schools.
She’s thankful for school choice in Oklahoma and says her daughter wouldn’t be where she is today, headed to the nation’s capital to attend Jr.NYLC, without schools like DBCS and Sankofa.
LaTeria said that if she could add one new thing to her middle school’s electives that it would be her wish to have annual Black History Performances like the ones she participated in at DBCS and Sankofa.
LaTeria’s first year of middle school is nearly under her belt. So far, she’s earned a 101 in English, 102 in Science and As in all other classes. She says that Math is, however, her favorite of all subjects. She’s presently enrolled in a Pre-AP math course and currently holds a 99 percent in that class.
Her school’s library proudly displayed one of her essays last quarter, and it was her essay writing that undoubtedly landed her on Andrew Potter the Chief Academic Officer’s radar. Mr. Potter invited LaTeria and another student from her school to Jr.NYLC.
Although LaTeria is only a soon to be 7th grader, she already has two colleges picked out: Langston University and the University of Oklahoma.
LaTeria’s journey is an excellent example of how high quality charter schools and great ‘traditional’ public schools can co-exist and work together to improve the life-chances for students. It also undoubtably gives families the option of school choice.
For more information about the importance of school choice, watch Roland Martin and The 74 Million host a town hall from Morehouse College in Atlanta on ‘Is School Choice the Black Choice?’
Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder and executive editor of The Black Wall Street Times. He graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Oklahoma State University. A rising voice in America and an emerging leader in the education reform movement, Nehemiah frequently travels for speaking engagements around the country, is a blogger for Education Post, and has been featured on NBC as well as in Blavity and Tulsa People. Nehemiah is also a teacher at Sankofa School of the Performing Arts in Tulsa, OK, a 2017 Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, and a 2018 Oluko Fellow. He gave a TED Talk at the University of Tulsa in the spring of 2018.