Why a district launched a middle school for African American girls

'When we attended school, we were invisible in our classrooms,' principal says
By: | October 1, 2020
Principal Ronda Cosby leads Grace James Academy of Excellence, an all-girls middle school in Louisville with a focus on STEM and an Afro-centric curriculum.Principal Ronda Cosby leads Grace James Academy of Excellence, an all-girls middle school in Louisville with a focus on STEM and an Afro-centric curriculum.

A group of middle school students in Louisville has the unique opportunity to learn at a new, all-girls public school with an Afro-centric curriculum.

The Grace James Academy of Excellence, part of Jefferson County Public Schools, also has a STEM focus with its GEMS program—which stands for “girls excelling in math and science,” Principal Ronda Cosby says.

“When we attended school, we were invisible in our classrooms,” Cosby says, reflecting on her K-12 experiences at a student. “There was nothing within the curriculum that reflected us, positively or negatively. We were physically in the classroom but nothing in the classroom related to who were we as human beings.”

The academy, which is open to students of all backgrounds, has started its inaugural year in full online learning mode. Still, according to plan, educators have created “GEMS,” where groups of 30 students each participate in social-emotional learning sessions that the school calls “sister circles,” assistant principal Melanie Page says.


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Students are placed into GEMS groups based on their strength in skills such as communication.

Grace James administrators partnered with LaGarrett King, an assistant professor of education faculty at the University of Missouri, to develop an African American history curriculum.

All subjects are taught through an African American lens. In math, for instance, students learn about the Hidden Figures, the three African American women who worked as mathematicians for NASA during the space race.

And in science, students will study how African tribes were influenced by the phases of the moon.

The school has also hired a cultural humility coach who guides teachers in entrenching the Afro-centric perspective in the curriculum.

Recently, teachers were given leeway to pause instruction so they could discuss the grand jury’s ruling in the case of Breona Taylor, the Black Louisville woman who was shot to death during a police raid in March.

“One of the main tents of our school is social-emotional health of female students,” Cosby says. “If you don’t address the social-emotional needs, academic will be that much harder to achieve.”


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