When Ma’at Lands graduated from North Central High School in 2001, she did so with a certified nursing assistant license in one hand and an acceptance letter from Tennessee State University in the other. In many ways, Lands had an average high school experience. What set her apart from many of her peers, however, was the 30-minute bus ride — one way — to get to school.
“I drove past Arlington High School and Washington High School to get to North Central,” Lands said. “I had a great experience there. We had some of the best educators, and I had exposure to all different types of programs. But once the busing stopped, a lot of kids were left behind. Students should not have to travel far to be able to access a high quality education. You shouldn’t have to leave your community.”
It was this belief, and a passion for educating that started in college, that led Lands, 36, to open Rooted School, part of a New Orleans-based charter network. Located in the Arlington Woods neighborhood inside Eastern Star Church, the mission of Rooted School is to provide students with a local, high quality education that will benefit the community as a whole.
“We knew that this was something we had to do with the community,” Lands said. “Schools try to do a lot, all the time and by themselves. We believe that we can be successful by partnering with the community and pulling our resources together.”
With classes scheduled to begin in the fall of 2020, students will have the opportunity for paid internships and fellowships with local technology companies and dual credit classes through Ivy Tech Community College and Martin University. Initially, Rooted School will welcome high school freshman and add a grade level each year.
“We wanted to do a high school because one, there’s already an elementary school in the area, but also because the model fits best with high school kids,” Lands said.
That model closely resembles that of the Rooted School in New Orleans. While some specifics have been changed to align with the needs of the east side of Indianapolis, both schools have the same goal: to close the wage gap.
According to Indy Vitals, which measures sustainability in Marion County neighborhoods, 39% of Arlington Woods residents live at or below the poverty line, a rate 14% higher than the greater metropolitan area.
Rooted School partnered with Eastern Star Church’s ROCK Initiative, which aims to improve the quality of life for neighborhood residents through building a sense of community, enhancing housing options and increasing overall financial security for residents. Lands believes these goals can be achieved through enhancing education in the neighborhood.
“We are not a religious school,” Lands said. “We’re in this partnership because we have the same mission. One of the pillars of the ROCK Initiative is education. I knew that I wanted the school to be on the east side, because I was born and raised here and I have an invested interest. This is a community that was left behind, and I wanted to bring our resources together to give our kids the best education possible.”
For Ira Tramell, Rooted School may provide the educational experience she wants for her son. After hearing about Rooted School at an information event held by Eastern Star Church, Tramell was intrigued by the potential for one-on-one work between teachers and students and the pipeline to either college or the workforce. She enrolled her son, Edward, and hopes Rooted will be the solution to issues she has had with her son’s education in the past.
“We’ve tried public schools and charter schools,” Tramell said, “and no one has taken the time that she [Lands] has to help my son. [My son] isn’t going to be a statistic; doing drugs, selling drugs, or six-feet under,” Tramell said.
“Whether or not he goes to college,” Tramell continued, “He’s going to have what he needs to get a job after he’s done with school.”
Lands hopes that what students achieve at Rooted School will have a lifelong impact on them and their community.
“When you think about it, what is good for the community is good for the city and the state,” Lands said. “We’re talking about bringing jobs and people contributing to society. What we do here is going to be a positive socioeconomic impact on the entire city.”
Update: Previously, this article incorrectly stated the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township Schools was included a court ordered desegregation effort.