Jennifer L. Ross, National Collegiate Preparatory Public Charter High School

Jennifer Ross

Jennifer L. Ross (BSc. Psych ’96), Founder and Executive Director, National Collegiate Preparatory Public Charter High School, credits her brother’s frankness with oiling the wheels of her life.

“My big brother, who attended Morehouse College, said, ‘You need to get out of California. You’re way too valley. You need another experience,’” the Sacramento, California, native recalled.

So, she enrolled at Howard in 1985.

Even after money troubles during her sophomore year turned into an eight-year hiatus from the University, “I was determined to have a degree from Howard,” she said. In 1996, she earned it and added a master’s degree in social work from the University of Maryland in 2000.

Ross, who now lives in Bowie, Maryland, is the founder and executive director of National Collegiate Preparatory Public Charter High School—also known as National Prep. It’s the first D.C. public charter high school east of the Potomac River to offer the prestigious International Baccalaureate Diploma. Operating under a $10-million budget, nearly 300 students are enrolled at the school for 2016–17. The school, which opened in 2009, graduated its fifth senior class at the end of the school year.

With federal start-up funds—and no corporate backing or foundation grants—Ross leads an organically grown school that prides itself on academic excellence in a safe environment, and where service-learning and study-abroad opportunities are available.

“You have this dream for the kids, but they don’t believe in the dream for themselves all the time,” she said. “Survival gets in the way of the dream.”

Ross’ mission is to help them realize the benefi ts of continued education.

Each year, the junior class travels to National Prep’s sister school in Panama, where they complete a service-learning opportunity at a retirement home.

“Our language of choice is Spanish,” Ross said, noting that students get to experience the language’s connection to the African Diaspora when they see and hear black people speaking the language.

“The school has an international studies focus for that reason,” she said.

Ross called the whole curriculum “high-functioning” but admits raw data shows that students—many of whom read at a fifth-grade level—don’t perform well. So, she prefers to look at the growth data, which she said shows the school is consistent with increasing reading and math scores.

Ross envisions National Prep being around well beyond her years with a plethora of endowment funds. She wants to open four more campuses, in cities like Detroit; Chicago; West Palm Beach, Florida; and a part of North Carolina. She wants beautiful buildings, like the ones at Georgetown Day School and Sidwell Friends School, with swimming pools and tennis courts, too.

“They shouldn’t have to cross the [Potomac] River to have that opportunity,” she said.

Erin Perry is a metro Detroit-based writer and editor.

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