My name is Ramona Wilder and I am the Chief Executive Officer and Administrative Director at Wilder’s Preparatory Academy. It is an amazing feeling to be the legacy of parents who founded an African American school! It is not just an African American school, but an African American school that has been ranked number one at educating African American students. That is truly amazing. It is a great feeling, and for me it’s personal to continue the work they started.
Having the opportunity to continue to work with families in the communities, to make sure that the kids are receiving a superior education, and ultimately seeing the success of the students is what excites me. We are able to hire a staff of color who are able to educate students of color. Most importantly, we can contribute to the well-roundedness of all of the students. It is an amazing task.
Back in the 1800s, my great-great-great-grandfather started a school in an old church building. The school was for African-Americans who were mostly freed slaves. This was when education was not guaranteed as a civil right to oppressed peoples. The school has a lot of history behind it. Oftentimes, once the Caucasian Americans found out that African Americans were learning in that building, they would burn the church down. So, my family would have to rebuild the church to have a school again, but it gave determination that this is something that was needed.
So that is how it all started. From that point on education has been the most important thing in our family. Our family has always strived to ensure that our community and the families within our community received an education. My father was an electrical engineer by trade and my mother was a college professor. My father wanted to fulfill his dream to give back to his community through education. That dream is how Wilder’s Preparatory Academy Charter School started. My father passed away about eight years ago and I took over his legacy. Since his passing, I have had the pleasure of being able to educate African Americans and help close the academic achievement gap.
What was your father’s vision for the school? How did the school transform from a daycare to a private school, and ultimately to a charter school?
My mother is a professor of child development. She trained teachers to be teachers, and that started with small kids at the age of two. They created their first school, a daycare called Tender Care Child Development Center. Of course, my parents did not want to just create any school. They wanted to create a school that was exceptional.
Children who attended Tender Care would leave with reading and writing skills. It is not surprising that those children’s parents did not want them to leave, they were ecstatic about their progress and wanted more. So, my parents decided to create a first grade, and then second grade, and then from there, they turned built a K-5 elementary school. Eventually, Tender Care Elementary was renamed “Wilder’s Preparatory Academy” which now educates children K-8.
My father’s vision and philosophy for Wilder’s has always been to provide a private school quality education for free. Together he and my mother changed the school from a private school to a charter school, in order to serve and give back to the community. Any child is capable of learning, as evidenced by successfully teaching kids to read and write before kindergarten. What children need is an environment where they are pushed and guided towards learning. Now, we have graduates coming back to tell us that they have gone to medical school, started acting, or are in law school. Whatever our students’ desires were, they have been able to accomplish them. We now have kids of our former students attending the school; it is turning into a generational thing. It is such an amazing place to be, and to have the opportunity to be able to contribute and give back in such a way. For me, it is a wonderful thing to uphold the legacy of my parents.
To found a school you’ve got to have the heart and the passion to want to do it because it is full of many challenges. I think that in today’s times, we are going back to where we were before. Right now, the importance of education is dire; it is needed now more than anything.
“The ability to be able to understand the child, what they are going through, knowing how to motivate them, and the opportunity to share your experiences makes a huge difference.”
Black students can be educated anywhere; it does not have to be a black school educating black individuals. However, students love to see people that look like them, it is a matter of representation and shared understanding. I think that it is an important factor to be able to have an African American founded, African American supervising school, and a staff that has a good percentage of African Americans on their faculty. They can share more than just education; They can relate to the culture of African American students. The ability to be able to understand the child, what they are going through, knowing how to motivate them, and the opportunity to share your experiences makes a huge difference.
I think they do, honestly. I think all races have a unique, special flare to them. So definitely, yes.
Our school motto is, “We build the future!” We want every one of our students to be able to build a future for themselves. We truly want them to be able to go out into the world, contribute, and make their own history. When you graduate from Wilder’s, you graduate with a sense of pride that you can be anything you want to be. You get to make that decision. We teach them that failure is simply not an option and that there is an expectation for them to achieve what they know they can. We offer support for them to do so.
It is a little disheartening to me. It does help the drive to want to push and do more. However, I hope that we get to a point where there is one type of education and that is a great education. I hope that the education system can offer that regardless of what the race of the student is, but while understanding that there are distinct differences among cultures. Once we recognize that we can move forward.
I feel that there is a lot of disparity in the whole education system; we should not be all fighting against each other or against one way. Instead, we should all be focused on what we can do to provide our students in the United States to have the best possible public education available. I think once we get to that point we can do a lot better. In the U.S. you have some great skills that do wonderfully. You have some large school districts that are great, and some that are not. We must get rid of the disparity amongst all of it and become one great institution that educates children successfully.