A Jacksonville, Florida native is giving back to his community in a powerful way by establishing a Black-led K-5 school that aims to produce students prepared to succeed at historically Black colleges and universities.
Cameron Frazier, the 31-year-old founding principal of Becoming Collegiate Academy, said he established the school in order to provide families in the North Jacksonville area with a high-quality option for education that is also intentional about placing an emphasis on cultural identity.
It’s important “to be shown models of people who look like you,” Frazier told the Atlanta Black Star, adding that Black kids are “missing that in schools.”
A charter school, BCA is publicly funded and independently run.
Frazier, a graduate of Jacksonville’s Andrew Jackson High School, first began his career in education as a Teach for America Corps member in 2012 and taught sixth- thorough eighth-grade English at Matthew Gillbert Middle School for three years.
“I wanted to teach Black kids how to read,” Frazier said of his motivation to move to Nashville, Tennessee, and teach third graders at Rocketship Elementary.
His experiences a part of the team that established KIPP Nashville as the founding assistant principal “directly translated” to the process for starting BCA and showed him “What school can be for Black and brown kids.”
The school is specifically aimed at producing students who are prepared to succeed in college and life. One of the biggest goals of BCA is “to make sure 100 percent of our Becoming Bears graduate HBCU-ready, ready to attend one of the 107 colleges that identify as a historically Black college or university.”
In addition, students will be prepared to compete in the 21st-century job market and embody BCA’s core values: Love, community, identity and pride.
Frazier said HBCUs are a major theme at the school, as BCA strives to “mirror the HBCU experience.” After previously being told to discourage students from attending Black schools by people who didn’t see them as quality institutions, Frazier is now set on pushing back against that narrative and ensuring all students understand the history of the institutions and value the experience of an HBCU education.
Each cohort at BCA will be named after an HBCU. This year’s founding kindergarten class will be named after Edward Waters College, a private school in Jacksonville founded in 1866 by members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“We pay homage to Jacksonville first!” Frazier said. Future cohorts will be named after Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and other universities across the country.
Each year, students will have the opportunity to go an a college tour and visit HBCUs.
“For me, it’s not just about making sure that they’re college-ready; yeah, we want them to go to college, but it’s also about them knowing that there is an education that’s out there that is reflective of you and this is what that education looks like,” said Frazier.
HBCUs remain major producers of Black professionals. According to the United Negro College Fund, HBCUs make up just 3 percent of Black colleges in America but produce 20 percent of Black graduates and 25 percent of Black graduates in STEM.
A Gallup-Purdue University report also found that Black graduates who had attended HBCUs were more likely to have felt supported while in college and more likely to describe themselves as “thriving in purpose well-being” than students who had gone to mostly white institutions.
While BCA is open to all students in Duval County, it will be located on the north side of the Norwood community in Jacksonville, an area where Frazier says high-quality options for education are lacking. An exact location for the school will be released in the coming weeks.
According to a study by 904WARD based on data from the 2018-2019 school year, just 37 percent of Black students in Jacksonville earned enough points to pass the English/Language Arts portion of the Florida state assessment, while 63 percent of white students and 74 percent of Asian students were able to pass.
“In other words, an overwhelming number of Black kids are not reading on grade level,” Frazier explained.
BCA will serve the Norwood and Lake Forest neighborhoods in particular because the community has struggled with historically low reading rates.
Parent Mario McKinney told News4Jax the kids in the community “definitely need a positive and progressive school to go to.” He added, “If it’s Black-owned on top of that we support that also.”
In order to be intentional about addressing existing gaps in achievement, students at BCA will receive about 180 minutes of literacy instruction each day, while students would typically spend about 90 minutes on literacy in a traditional program.
In addition, students will receive up to two hours a day of small-group instruction.
By year six, BCA plans to serve more than 600 students. The school began with enrolling kindergarten students only, and it will grow by one grade level each year. More than 100 kindergarteners are already enrolled.
“Our school is not about giving our kids anything,” Frazier said, “because they already are amazing, they’re brilliant, they were born that way. Our job is to unleash that greatness that’s within them.”