PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland has been labeled the “whitest big city” in America. That can make it difficult for some BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) kids to see themselves reflected in their communities and schools.
That’s why there’s an effort to make a space specifically for BIPOC students where they feel seen, heard and their experiences are reflected in curriculum.
“It's very hard to learn when you don't see yourself in the curriculum. You don't see yourself in educational model,” said Eric Knox, executive director and founder of HOLLA, a nonprofit in Portland that pairs youth of color with mentors of color.
“Every spring we match our kids or mentees with mentors […] and we have more kids wanting to get mentorship than we have mentors,” Knox said.
From the beginning, in 2013, Knox said his intention was to open a school for BIPOC students.
“We felt like if we were on a campus with our kids, doing life with them the way we do life with them through mentorship, we could get the academic outcomes,” said Knox.
“We know Black and Brown and Indigenous kids will learn equally as well if they have a space that they see themselves in their history, their culture, and all of that is honored.”
A school was still years away, but when the pandemic hit plans changed.
“It only exacerbated the inequities academically, you know, in terms of our kids and what they had access to,” he said.
“We said, we're not just gonna sit here and weather the pandemic. We're gonna go for it. Our babies are suffering academically,” said Knox.
That leap of faith paid off. HOLLA Public Charter School is expected to open in the fall of 2022 in partnership with the Reynolds School District.
“We'll focus on what's in your community. Like, it's a very strong entrepreneurial focus […] There'll be a very strong hip-hop focus around our kids’ learning style,” explained Knox.
He said concepts from hip-hop would be utilized.
“[Like] what does it mean to keep it real? […] What does it mean the grind? How to handle your haters,” Knox said.
He said the curriculum may seem unique to outsiders, but it’ll still be tied to math and literacy. It’ll just be taught in a different way.
“Hip-hop is what our kids understand.”
The charter school will start with about 70 kids in kindergarten through second grade then move to serve students in higher grade levels once the school gets established.
Knox said the hope is for the school to serve as a model for other districts in the state.
He said there’s already been a lot of interest inside and outside of the district. They’re still trying to figure out the best way to enroll kids. Interested parents can find more information on the HOLLA website.