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Eastern pride becomes a part of California classroom

When Sabrina Calloway graduated from Eastern in 2004 and moved to California, she had no idea that she would be teaching a classroom of Eastern Eagles a few years later. Especially a class between the ages of 8-9.

As part of Aspire Public Schools, Calloway instructs a third-grade class at Rosa Parks Academy in Stanton, Calif., that is linked to and named after Eastern. Aspire, which consists of 21 schools in California, is a charter school district that helps students who come from lower-income families learn about and prepare for college. The main goal, according to Calloway, is to help these students realize that going to college is important and a real option for them.

“A lot of their parents haven’t gone to college, so it’s not in their social context,” Calloway said. “We talk about the college process and why it’s important to get a higher education.”

In order to help the students think about college early on, each classroom becomes a different college or university. The students are, in turn, part of that university, participating in college cheers everyday and decorating their rooms with items from their university.

“When I had the opportunity of naming my classroom, I thought, why not Eastern?” Calloway said. “I believe in the mission and I want my kids to believe it.”

Calloway, who served as an RA at Eastern, contacted Bettie Ann Brigham, vice president of student development, and Daryl Hawkins, dean of students, last August to see if they would be interested in the program and if they could send things to the classroom. They put together packages filled with T-shirts, pennants, pens and other items from the bookstore for the students.

“They were so excited,” Calloway said of receiving the packages. “They were shouting and jumping up and down. It was like it was Christmas or something.”

According to Brigham, Eastern plans to continue to send stuff to its third-graders, including a send-off gift in June. “It’s a wonderful idea,” Brigham said. “It would be great if more schools would do this.”

Aspire has been a program for about seven years and it includes classrooms from kindergarten to high school. Its first class just graduated this past spring with an impressive 100 percent applying and being accepted into various colleges. However, only around 60 percent decided to attend. Calloway said that the program is trying to determine if this is an issue of cultural background still inhibiting the students or other reasons. Either way, college is on their minds.

As of now, Aspire Public Schools is only in California and does not have any immediate plans to go national. The focus is to expand throughout California, but the future could hold more.

Calloway, who is originally from Philadelphia, really enjoys being a part of Aspire and its philosophy of teaching students on an individualized basis and helping them to become confident in their learning.

“For my first year of teaching, I couldn’t have asked for better placement,” Calloway said. “I’m learning so much. It’s not about just teaching but really helping kids learn. [It’s] an environment of learning, which I didn’t see a lot in the Philly district.”

Calloway believes that she will continue to teach at Aspire as long as she is in California. “I love the community in which I work and I really believe in the system and mission,” she said.

Calloway also tries to incorporate Eastern’s mission into her classroom by sharing with her students the importance of living in peace and harmony. “I know that this is a part of Eastern’s philosophy that is important,” she said. “A lot of these kids don’t know a lot about peace from their background.”

The students love being a part of Eastern and are constantly looking for stuff from their university and visiting the website. “Anytime they see or read anything about Eastern, they get pumped,” Calloway said.

When she receives Spirit, the news magazine of Eastern, Calloway incorporates it into the student’s activities. In one issue, there was an article that mentioned Sabrina and her classroom, and the students thought they were famous.

“They know who they are and always want to talk about [college],” Calloway said. “They know they are Eastern.”

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