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Founder of HYPE Academy Encourages BIPOC Parents and Leaders to Step Up

“If you’re not advocating for your child, nobody else will.”

After witnessing educational disparities and leaving the system to open a private school in 2011, Arianne Craig Jolla is leading Black and brown parents to advocate for their children inside and outside of schools.

NEW ORLEANS — When Arianne Craig Jolla started teaching in the New Orleans public schools, she told her teacher mentor that she would only last for five years.

“I hated waking up in the morning. I felt like I was failing the kids I was hired to teach,” Jolla says.

The reason for the feeling? Jolla was trying to conform to a system of teaching to the standardized tests and moving kids along to the next grade level, whether or not they were truly learning or getting the support they needed to thrive.

“I’ve wanted to teach since I was in fourth grade. But I knew I couldn’t conform to the system of just pushing kids through,” Jolla says.

Her last straw came during a departmental meeting held by the principal of her middle school. The
leader of the school was upset with the teachers because the students were not doing well on their
benchmarks for their upcoming standardized tests.

“In the meeting, a colleague raised her hand and said, ‘There’s an elephant in the room. These kids can’t read. They can’t write. Many of them don’t even know what street they live on. How can we expect them to do what is necessary to pass this standardized test?” Jolla says.

What happened next became the catalyst for Jolla’s next step.

“The principal said, ‘I don’t care what you do. Just get ’em out of here and let ’em be high school’s problem next year.’ That was it for me. I turned in my letter of resignation shortly after,” Jolla says.

After some reflection, Jolla kept returning to the term, “academic malpractice.” She knew that what was happening was wrong. She couldn’t stand by while the system failed the children in her community.

Jolla didn’t want to leave education, so she decided to teach on her own terms. In 2011, Jolla officially incorporated HYPE (Helping Young People Excel) Academy Private School and Academic Resource Center. Nearly 12 years after its founding, HYPE Academy has helped over 1,000 students through its private school, tutoring programs and summer camps. Current enrollment in the full-time school program is 30. The school has graduated 10 students and will graduate two more at this year’s end.

HYPE Academy provides core instruction for students from fifth through twelfth grade. Jolla says the students enrolled benefit from the smaller class sizes, self-paced learning, and individualized attention.

“Students come to us because they need something different. Gifted kids come to us for dual
enrollment opportunities and the ability to graduate early,” Jolla says.

The pandemic has exposed the inequities and lack of support in schools with primarily Black and brown students, and the recent data from The Nation’s Report Card show that Black and brown students are falling further behind their white peers. Jolla recognizes that the gap has widened, and that action must be taken.

“Because of the pandemic and the inherent inequities in education, many Black and brown kids simply did not have the resources in their schools to pivot,” Jolla says. “It took longer for their teachers to get trained for virtual learning. Because of that lack of resources and the inherent inequities in education, now the gap is wider. Our kids were already behind, but now, the scores are showing that those kids who were already at the bottom are performing worse.”

Jolla and her team at HYPE Academy are doing their part to provide academic support and opportunities for children in the community, and she insists that parents in her community step up and do their part, too.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, and when I say ‘we’, I’m talking about communities of color. We’ve got a lot of work to do as it relates to parenting,” Jolla says. “If you’re not advocating for your child, nobody else will.”

Jolla says that the squeaky wheel gets the oil in both the traditional and non-traditional academic
settings that kids in New Orleans find themselves in. “When parents show up at schools, educators and administrators feel held accountable and tend to do even better by their students and their families. We (school leaders) want to do right by our families. The ones who show up in our buildings and come on our field trips and volunteer at our events are a constant reminder to us to keep first things first. Our kids are top priority.”

“Nobody’s checking for our kids outside of our community,” Jolla says. “We need to start our own
schools. We are the most qualified to do so – within our communities. We tend to run to other
communities to save us. We’ve got to save ourselves. If we don’t do it, no one else is going to do it- not in the way that our kids need it.”

An online database hosted by Black Minds Matter has identified fewer than 500 Black school founders in the United States, and Jolla is humbled to be a part of the established community of leaders.

“We have been educating our own kids for centuries,” Jolla says. “This is not new to our community, but we do need many more people like my husband and me to say, ‘I will sacrifice. I’ll do my part while here.'”

About HYPE

HYPE Academy (Helping Young People Excel), LLC is a Private School and Academic Resource Center (ARC) located in New Orleans East. HYPE Academy Private School provides core instruction for 5th -12th graders whose families have decided that HYPE’s intimate (15:1 student to teacher ratio) and accommodating environment proves more suitable for their children than the traditional school setting.


Casey F. McGee


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