Heritage Preparatory Academy: A Dream Come True
ATLANTA — Three years ago, when her daughter was a middle school student in Atlanta, Natilee Brown-Van wanted a better middle school for her daughter.
She dreamed of a school where her daughter would be challenged academically, where discipline and character development would be stressed and where students would learn about their heritage. Brown-Van decided to make her own dream come true. Last month it did, when Heritage Preparatory Academy in southwest Atlanta opened its doors to 114 sixth graders.
“It finally hit me after the first day,” said Brown-Van, the head of school at Heritage Prep, located in a portion of the sprawling building that houses the Changing A Generation Ministries Church. “All the work and the ups and downs, and there were some days when I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. But the way the community has responded to this school being here has been great. It let’s me know what we’re doing here is right.”
The goal of Heritage Prep is to not only educate its students, Brown-Van said, but to instill character, discipline and a sense of confidence in them as well. The school plans to add a grade each year through 12th grade.
“The students in this community have not always been serviced with the best,” Brown-Van said of the student population at Heritage Prep, which is largely African American. “We want them to learn about their great history and heritage. We want them to know that there are great leaders and thinkers in their history. We want them to develop the mindset that they will graduate from college. We want them to learn about that history and that heritage, and let them know that they can fulfill their destiny and change the world.”
The student creed at Heritage Prep says it all: I am here to learn all I can about my heritage; To learn how to persevere through life’s challenges and prepare for what I have been destined to do, so that I can fulfill my purpose and change the world. My mind is on my mission and my mission is on my mind!
Heritage Prep offers a robust curriculum with challenging courses in math, science, social studies and technology. Students take two foreign languages as well, French and Spanish. Students also have health, physical education, drama, dance and music classes, as well as a two-hour enrichment period after school, where students participate in various activities such debate, visual, performing and creative arts, and environmental studies. Additionally, through a partnership with Georgia Tech, Heritage Prep offers an enrichment program for students with an interest in becoming crime scene investigators (CSI).
Each Wednesday is Community Circle Day, when the entire school comes together in the morning to hear from a guest speaker, who will talk about the importance of setting goals and developing a disciplined plan to reach those goals.
“Sometimes it will be an entrepreneur or business person,” Brown-Van said. “We may have a celebrity come by, or a politician. We want it to be an informative experience for the students. We want them to have a sense of community.”
Brown-Van said establishing that sense of teamwork, community and togetherness was not easy during the school’s first week.
“The kids came from different elementary schools and different communities,” Brown-Van said. “All of my research has told me that it takes three weeks for people to learn to adapt to new surroundings and this has been no different for these kids. Now they have meshed with each other and they feel like they are a part of something here.”
One example Brown-Van points to is when she had to chastise a student for her behavior during the first week of school. The student was one of several who catches a school bus at 5:35 a.m., to ride to Heritage Prep from northwest Atlanta. “I told her that her mother was making a great sacrifice to have her attend this school, and that she needed to appreciate that her mother wanted something better for her,” Brown-Van said. “If not, she could go back to her [zoned middle] school.
“She told me that she didn’t want to go back, that being at Heritage Prep for her was a matter of survival,” Brown-Van said.
Parents have expressed the same sentiments as that student, Brown-Van said. “Parents are speaking with their actions,” she said. “The fact that they have brought their students here lets us know that people want this. They want this option for their children. This school needed to exist.”
Visit www.heritageprepcharter.org to learn more about Heritage Preparatory Academy.