According to the most recent study released by the RAND Corp. in 2006, 35 percent of Pittsburgh’s high school students drop out without graduating. However, at Imani Christian Academy, a private K-12 school in the East Hills, the dropout rate is zero.
At the Symposium on Reducing Youth Violence at Manchester Bidwell Corporation June 17, participants heard from Imani Headmaster Elder Milton Raiford. Despite Raiford’s proven record of success with at-risk students, the discussion by his fellow panelists failed to explore what really makes Imani successful.
|ELDER MILTON RAIFORD (Photo by J.L. Martello)
“I think in our community a lot of people would rather psychoanalyze and to assess African-American boys and men in particular in terms of the damage they perceive they cause as opposed to the damage they endure,” Raiford said in a later interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier. “You can only be what you see, so if you don’t see African-American males in leadership positions and teaching positions then you won’t think you can achieve that.”
So what is the driving factor behind Raiford’s success with at-risk students and those students resting in the middle of achievement levels who are often ignored?
“What works at Imani is our unabashed faith in God. You can’t educate kids without a God consciousness and that’s why we work because we give the kids God to believe in,” Raiford said. “Imani prospers because we put God first. You have to heal the spirit of a child before you pour in substantive knowledge.”
Another factor that sets Imani apart is their commitment to individuality. As opposed to other alternative academies and charter schools that focus on college preparation, Imani prepares its students to pursue a variety of post-secondary opportunities such as vocational training and even immediate entry into the workforce.
“Instead of just being college preparatory we are purpose preparatory. We determine what a child’s purpose is,” Raiford said. “We have children here who want to be carpenters. What’s wrong with being a carpenter? All work is honorable work.”
In a school where half of the staff members are African-American males, Imani students are guided by positive role models they can relate to. The school also sets high standards for their students with a grading scale that is more challenging than the Pittsburgh Public School’s.
“You have to concern yourself with the entire life of a child. We don’t have any metal detectors. We don’t have guards in the halls. We have a waiting list of over 100 people because the kids tell others, come to a school where people love you. They’ll go to court with you, they’ll go anywhere with you,” Raiford said. “We don’t have dropouts here because if we have a kid whose absent for 2 days we’re out there looking for them.”
As a private institution, 93 percent of Imani’s funding comes from private donations. However, unlike other private institutions, Imani’s 250 students come from a variety of backgrounds, some with criminal records.
“The kids we get are underserved. The inner-city schools are underserved. They’re schools out there that take the talented tenth, they take the Black kids who could do well anywhere,” Raiford said. “Imani takes the majority of the kids, we take the same kids in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. We’re not trying to take the kids who are elite.”
Of the 156 students who have graduated from Imani since 1994, 64 percent attended a university or college, 9 percent attended vocational school, 24 percent entered the workforce, and 2 percent joined the armed forces.