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Look Inside Billionaire Kanye West’s Donda Academy. Students and Teachers Provided Yeezy Merch; No Longer Tuition-Free As Promised

Billionaire rapper Kanye West has recently opened the Donda Academy, a private Christian tuition-based school named after his late mother Donda West, in Ventura County, California, but not without drama.

Donda West was a professor at Chicago State University and served as head of the Department of English, Communications, Media Arts and Theatre.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JANUARY 05: Kanye West is seen in Chelsea on January 05, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Gotham/GC Images)

During the first days of the opening of Kanye’s school, the multi-hyphenate raged on social media about his ex-wife Kim Kardashian not wanting his children to attend the newly opened school.

Though the West children are not enrolled in the school now, other Doves (the name West affectionately calls the students) were in attendance on day one ready to learn.

Is Donda a School of the Future?

In its mission statement, the institution says it believes by “using an ethic of integrity and care, Donda Academy prepares students to become the next generation of leaders, thinkers, and innovators.”

The educators and school’s founder believes this is accomplished by “providing them with a world-class education that includes a rigorous core curriculum, and an emphasis on sustainability, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving.”

The Donda Academy serves students from pre-K to high school, with each class consisting of no more than 12 students. The school operates from a 10:1 student-to-teacher ratio, teaching core classes in language arts, math, and science, and two enrichment classes a day in either world language, visual arts, film, choir, and parkour.

Each school day starts with a full school worship experience before moving into instruction.

“The Doves first day at Donda praise God,” Kanye wrote on his Instagram post. (Photo: Instagram @kanyewest)

Donda Already Raising Red Flags

On Sept. 3, it was reported that students at the Donda Academy on the first day of school were seen on the post on Instagram eating in a warehouse. And in the photo, teachers and students appear to be wearing Yeezy merch.

The photo left people with lots of questions about Donda Academy.

Pedagogy

The curriculum operates from a “project-based learning model” which affords the students to co-create the learning experiences. Instruction abandons the traditional learning model used in American schools and incorporates educational markers into the personal interests and skills of the students.

Experts believe PBL with “a strategy that includes students self-directed learning skills in a system-based education course” engages both a student’s heart and mind, provides a deeper learning opportunity, gives them exposure to adults and careers in ways traditional education does not, further equipping them for their future and instills in children a sense of purpose.

The website states, “We promote ideation, prototyping, and real-world implementation,” using this model.

One school, with a similar philosophy is the Brooklyn Free School (BFS). BFS is moving into its 18th year, educating children from elementary education to high school, prospering in what it considers “self-directed learning,” with no standardized curriculum, no mandatory testing, and no grading.

“Teachers work with students to develop curriculum that supports their passions and their growth, and our lessons leap out of the classroom and into our neighborhood, city, and wider world,” their website states. “Our curriculum fosters self-confidence and self-motivation, as students learn that they are equal partners in determining their educational paths.”

Students graduate from this school and have had success in college.

Other Rapper-Founded Schools

While rappers often give back to schools, funding programs or even full wings in their honor (like Dr. Dre, who donated $10 million for a new performing arts center/ auditorium at Compton High School that will seat more than 900 students), only a handful have started actual schools.

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith opened the New Village Leadership Academy, a private tuition-based elementary school, in 2008 in Calabasas, California, that once operated in the Indian Hills High School and then relocated to the Agoura High School. Smith leased the first location for three years, paying $890,000.

While the Smiths denied being members of the Scientology community, many linked them and the school to the faith-based community’s teachings. However, the administration insisted the school was “secular,” with staffers from Islamic, Christian, Jewish, and the Scientology community teaching there.

Still, the school utilized “study technology” to instruct its students through a set of strategies and resources developed by L. Ron Hubbard.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Smith said in a prepared statement, “About 10 years ago, Jada and I started dreaming about the possibility of creating an ideal educational environment, where children could feel happy, positive and excited about learning. . . .”

“New Village Academy was born of a simple question, ‘Is it possible to create an educational environment in which children have fun learning?’” the statement continued. “Jada and I believe the answer is ‘Yes.’”

The school closed its doors in June 2013.

Sean “Brother Love” Combs is also a backer of a school. However, unlike Donda and the New Village Academy, his school is not tuition-based and more private.

In 2016, he helped launch the Capital Preparatory School (Harlem Campus), a charter school in New York.

CPS was already thriving in Hartford, Connecticut, under the leadership of Dr. Steve Perry. Combs dedicated his resources to replicate the program in his hometown, “serving 160 students in grades 6 & 7, adding a grade per year to full capacity of 700 students.”

The school has recently relocated to the historic location of the former Church of All Saints at East 129th St. and Madison Ave. Built in the 1880s, the building was designed by James Renwick Jr., the architect behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Combs said in a statement, “The kids of Harlem should have access to opportunity and a quality education and deserve to learn on a campus that reflects the level of excellence we aspire for them to achieve.”

“This new campus for Capital Prep Harlem reflects my commitment to empowering as many children as I can and creating spaces for the next generation of leaders to thrive in every aspect of their lives,” he continued.

Not only will the new campus have 40 classrooms and offices, science labs, a cafeteria, an outdoor courtyard, and a “Great Hall” for assemblies and performances but will allow the school to increase enrollment from 500 to 700 students from students in grades six through 12, according to Page Six.

Inclusivity at Donda Academy

Despite being a private school where guardians are expected to pay tuition, administrators at Kanye’s school say they will not discriminate in accepting a child because they cannot afford the school.

“Everyone is welcome to apply regardless of financial situation,” the website says. “Financial aid and scholarships are available for students who qualify.”

Applications are currently being accepted via the school’s website. Of course, the Kardashian-West children would not have to apply. But it does not seem like they will be included in the inaugural classes. Especially since Kardashian has not publicly relented to West’s pressure to enroll their four children into the school. 

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