Sharon Ames-Dennard and her husband, Dana Dennard established Sakkara Youth Institute Independent School, a school that Ames-Dennard said “gives African-American students the venue to develop holistically.”
In 1993, the Dennards noticed that very bright children were having difficulty passing standardized tests. The couple began offering summer programs that stress positive black images and African heritage to black youth in an effort to improve academic performance among children.
“The first time I saw a black person in a schoolbook was in the seventh grade when we studied slavery,” Ames-Dennard said.
By 1996, Sakkara Youth Institute was opened to serve black children from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. Gradually, Sakkara evolved into a year-round independent school that serves 60 children in pre-kindergarten to eighth grade.
The school also offers an accelerated learning program. Ames-Dennard said Sakkara students test two or three grade levels above their public-school peers.
“The problem with public school is you learn the times tables at the same time that you need them. We teach them at a lower level, so they’re already in there, like your phone number or your address,” she said.
The warm atmosphere at Sakkara is what appealed to Ahkinyala Abdullah, a FAMU biology professor, whose 4-year-old son, Mikaili, is a kindergartner there. It reminded her of the small, family-oriented, Afrocentric school that she attended when she grew up in Chicago.
“I appreciated having that foundation and wanted it for my child,” Abdullah said. “I want my children to go to a school that reinforces African values. I am pleased with what Sakkara is doing.”
Sakkara’s students, who are all African-American, are greeted each morning with beautiful African artwork on the school walls. Their coursework includes studying African proverbs and learning about their heritage.
“I think Sakkara Youth Institute is a good school,” said Craig Farquharson, a sixth-grade student at Sakkara. “It will be voracious for more African-Americans students to go to SYI,” said Farquharson, using a vocabulary word that he learned in language arts.
Sakkara’s students participate in rituals each morning. The rituals affirm positive mental and spiritual development and it also creates a grounding to prepare the student for the educational process, according to Dana Dennard. “We begin each day with a libation, the African pledge, an affirmation, meditation and a yoga stretch,” he said. “An African proverb and a quote from a significant African-American are also incorporated in the morning rituals.”
The African proverb rings especially true for Sakkara: It takes a village to raise a child. Ames-Dennard said Sakkara has been a pivotal force in creating that village for children in the community.
“It is imperative that we cultivate youth development since the future will belong to those who prepare for it today.”
I would consider placing a text box with the location and phone number of the school, the names of the founders/directors, along with the name of the principal, beside the article. I would also place a photo of Sakkara’s students engaging in the morning rituals.
Sakkara Youth Institute
“Home of the Scarabs”
1209 Paul Russell Road
Tallahassee, Fla. 32301
Dana Kamau Dennard, Ph.D.
Sharon Ames-Dennard, Ph.D.
Kha Dennard, Ed.D.
Chevelle Hall, M.Ed.