The Harambee Way

Afro-centric school prepares for future as others fail to thrive 

(Photo Left) Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School. Photo courtesy of Harambee Institute.

At a time in which community members are affirming the positives of Afrocentric education — designed on the premise that people of African descent have been educated in a way that limits their awareness about themselves and indoctrinates them to a way of thinking that works against them — a number of schools created to counter that premise are proving unable to flourish.

Last month, Imani Charter School in Germantown announced that it would not reopen in the fall, and a statement was issued by the School District of Philadelphia saying that it expected the nearly all-black World Communications Charter in Center City to surrender its charter. In 2015, the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School, founded by one of the city’s legendary civil rights organizers, closed. 

Sandra Dungee Glenn, former Philadelphia School Reform Commission member, now CEO of Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School, one of the oldest charter schools operating successfully in the city, talks about the school’s approach to educating its students.

“Feeding their minds, feeding their bodies and feeding their spirit, that is the Harambee way,” she says.

On June 2, the school, at 66th and Media Streets, again celebrated its roots with a program and fundraiser to finance field trips, after-school activities and the purchase of new Chromebooks. 

Harambee acutally predates the charter schools system. It was founded in the early 1970s during a sustained teacher’s strike. According to the school’s website: “During that time, [Harambee] founder John Skief, Kaleb Whitby and other colleagues, set up ‘educational hubs’ in West Philadelphia to ensure students’ schooling would not be interrupted. They believed it was up to them as educators to take ownership of their issues within the community and provide solutions to the problems they faced, hence the name, ‘Harambee,’ which is Kiswahili for ‘Let’s Pull Together.’”

In 1997, after Pennsylvania passed its charter school law, Harambee became the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology, Pennsylvania’s first African-centered charter school.

Dungee Glenn informs parents in a YouTube video recorded by the school, “In order to keep our children grounded in their culture we use Kiswahili as a way to remind ourselves of where we come from.” 

The positives of the school are a delight to see: basketball, musical instruments, orderly hallways with vibrantly decorated walls, family fun nights and the school’s annual day of service to self-reliance.

Yet it’s difficult to over look struggling test scores. The school ranked below 80 percent of Pennsylvania’s elementary and middle schools in statewide performance scores. 

Test scores are certainly not a reflection of all that goes on in a school. The point of Afrocentrism in education is still a legitimate one. All of Harambee’s students are African-American and 75 percent receive free or reduced lunch. But Afrocentrism and love for the students are not enough when rigorous education and strict academic goals are also needed. May Harambee meet these goals, and survive.

The Harambee Way
Sheila Simmons - Contributor

Sheila Simmons brings many years of writing and communications experience to her work for Liberty City Press. She began her professional writing career at the Philadelphia Daily News, where she covered Business, City Hall and Education.


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