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Couple used their retirement money to open a school. Now it provides the best education in the district

Caring ad Sharing Learning school's student body has increased from 31 students in 1998 to 255 today.

Couple used their retirement money to open a school. Now it provides the best education in the district
Cover Image Source: Facebook / Caring and Sharing learning school

A charter school in Florida is encouraging Black students to overcome the odds of failing math and reading scores across the country during the Covid-19 pandemic. In 1998, the Caring and Sharing Learning School was established by two doyen educators using their retirement savings in Gainsville, Florida. The students in the school are now receiving the best education they can get in the entire district. The chasm between the Black and White students is at its greatest in Alachua County, Caring and Sharing's students have been filling in the gap. "We are taking children who people have said were untrainable and letting them know what they can do," Verna Johnson, the founder of the school, told PEOPLE about the school's pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students, who continue to excel in advanced placement programs and secure college degrees. 

Retiring in the late 1990s, Johnson and her husband, Simon Johnson, the first black tenured professors at the University of Florida's College of Education, used their savings to purchase a 12-acre plot of land and opened the school. Ever since the student body has increased from 31 students in 1998 to 255 today. Johnson, who is 82 years old added, "Equally important, we're making them understand to not let anybody tell them what they can't do." The award-winning charter school is located across the street from the city's low-income housing complex and saw Curtis Peterson, who like his mother is a long-time educator, as the Principal in 2008. He says that academic strength is the key ingredient behind the success of this proud institution. 



"We know exactly what each student knows and what they need to know at any given time," says Peterson, who checks in on the classroom to monitor students' progress many times a day. "We pretest students at the beginning of every unit and group them together based on their results, then we teach according to the groups that they're in. At the end of the unit, we test them again to see how much they've learned." Marlaisha Vereen, now 19, who attended the school through the sixth-grade plans to get into a law college after her graduation from nearby Santa Fe College says that her success is a testament to the school's strategy. "They really saw the potential in me," says Vereen, "when I didn't see it myself."



Peterson is an advocate for nurturing and determining the potential in all of their students. "At the end of the day, what we're really doing here is providing hope for kids and families who may not have otherwise realized how great they are," he says. "And with hope, you can literally attain anything." On the school's website, it reads: "Caring and Sharing Learning School’s vision is to provide the best academic and personal education for students in an environment which promotes achievement, personal excellence and a sense of pride. Students will leave Caring and Sharing Learning School and become positive school and community leaders in the global economy."



As part of their mission and visionary values, it is all about rigorous academic constructions and life-changing experiences that will nourish the children in the school. "At Caring and Sharing Learning School, data is used to plot student progress, plan, and execute the instructional program. Data from state assessments, district assessments, classroom assessments, and student self-assessments are used to identify student weaknesses and strengths. Based on the results from a variety of assessments, we at Caring and Sharing Learning School are able to build an instructional program based solely on student weaknesses and strengths. This results in each student having their own personalized educational plan. Caring and Sharing Learning School also uses input from parents in planning the instructional program for students." 

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