By Lynette Monroe (Program Assistant, NNPA ESSA Public Awareness Campaign)
Jarren Small, a 28 year-old, Missouri City native and community activist, stopped asking, “Why not?” and became the answer that he was looking for when he launched the non-profit organization LegendsDoLive.
In 2014, without any major partners, Small founded LegendsDoLive, an organization committed to funding and coordinating community-based programs for disadvantaged youth.
As a charismatic adolescent, Small was active in various extracurricular activities. He attended Hightower High School, played basketball and earned awards through the Media and Broadcasting Academy. In 2008, Jarren became an Eagle Scout. He credits his accomplishments to the positive impact of his parents’ consistent engagement and strategic exposure to diverse environments.
Shrugging his shoulders, Small downplayed his impressive list of academic and extracurricular accolades.
“Yeah, I guess I was kind of a cool kid in certain aspects,” Small said.
Ironically, Small’s many accomplishments were nearly overshadowed by his difficulty with standardized testing.
“Everyone thought I had it all together, but I failed to pass the math portion of the state standardized test,” called the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), Small said. “I passed the Math TAKS by one point—my fourth time. I felt like [God] was giving me one final chance to get it together.”
After high school, Small attended Prairie View A & M University in Prairie View, Texas, an hour’s drive to northwest of Missouri City.
“I did very well at [Prairie View A & M University],” Small said. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.”
And once again, Small was quite the standout student. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in mass communication with a minor in marketing. As an undergraduate, he led a movement to bring the first panther statue to campus in reverence of the university’s founding fathers. Small served as the student government association president from 2011 to 2012.
Small’s collegiate career was a stark contrast to the challenges he had faced just a few years earlier as a graduating senior.
When asked if his difficulty with testing was a defining moment, Small responded: “I feel like my entire life has led to this point, like everything I’ve been through and all the experiences I’ve had have been preparation for what I am doing right now.”
Fortunately, for other future leaders like Jarren Small, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), national education law signed by President Barack Obama, seeks to alleviate the burden of ineffective testing. ESSA gives states more flexibility to decide what type of assessments they issue. ESSA also allows states to develop “innovative” assessments or to use other nationally recognized tests like the SAT or ACT.
Small said that children are the nucleus of communities and that the success of our schools is the key to community sustainability.
Smiling, Small explained that, “Kids are not the future; they are the right now.”
The development of positive resources to support children offers a tangible solution to many concerns facing inner-city communities, Small said.
Small emphasized that his methods and approach to education are resources that all students can benefit from.
Likewise, ESSA requires states to prioritize stakeholder engagement in an attempt to better meet the educational needs of local populations in lieu of the national one-size-fits all academic standards promoted by its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush.
Currently, LegendsDoLive works primarily with high school students. This year, their widely anticipated annual “Senior Fest” included an all-star basketball game between Hightower High School and Ridge Point High School, followed by an empowerment forum and concert.
“This concert is happening during school. Something like this has never been done before,” Small explained, as he expounded on the innovation required to engage today’s youth.”
More than 600 students participated in the event. Small said getting students to participate in positive, educational events is not as difficult, as some people might think.
“It’s easy,” Small explained. “You just have to listen to them and then give them what they ask for.”
Small said that he’s applying this same attitude to his newest education focus: literacy. In May, LegendsDoLive launched a hip-hop curriculum called “Reading With a Rapper” to promote reading and writing proficiency. This program is a response to Small’s educational approach of listening to children first and then responding to their needs.
Let’s hope that Small’s enthusiasm about innovative approaches to education radiates throughout the nation as it has in the Houston-metropolitan area.
For more information about the Every Student Succeeds Act, visit nnpa.org/essa.
Lynette Monroe is the program assistant for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act Public Awareness Campaign and a master’s student at Howard University. Her research areas are public policy and national development. Follow Lynette on Twitter @_monroedoctrine.