Experiencing success in college and working in high school


While serving as an 8th grade teacher in post-Katrina New Orleans, Jonathan Johnson signed up for a scholarship with 4.0, a national nonprofit that invests in new community-centered models of education. and provides coaching, curriculum, community, and money to those with the imagination to create a more equitable educational ecosystem.

As part of the second cohort of 4.0 innovators, Johnson began imagining and then experimenting with a new high school model aimed at social and economic mobility. He learned that the average young person born in New Orleans earns $30,000 a year by age 35, but there is a $40,000 gap in median household income between white and black families. .

To tackle the income gap, in 2014 Johnson founded the Rooted School Foundation to accelerate upward mobility for underserved youth by ensuring students graduate with a job offer in one hand and a letter of acceptance to the university in the other.

The following year, while a member of Camelback Ventures, Johnson received a charter. And, after piloting through a high school, the first official Rooted School opened in New Orleans in 2017. Another post-Katrina Teach For America student, Kaitlin Karpinski was Johnson’s vice principal at Rooted School.

Last month, Rooted School opened the academic year at Southern University’s New Orleans campus in Gentilly. The location of the campus allows for an integrated early college experience with college courses offered directly across from high school courses.

The small school has a strong culture where the 150 diverse students express their voice and choice in learning. They are supported by an art therapist and several educators trained in special education.

Rooted Schools exist to provide “personal pathways to financial freedom.” Work-based learning begins in the first year with opportunities for professional exposure. Second-year students complete a one-week internship. Juniors and seniors complete a paid eight-week summer internship. They are piloting Friday courses (with a four-day week for teachers).

Another rooted school opened in Indianapolis in 2020 and plans to open in Vancouver, Washington and Las Vegas, Nevada next year.

Karpinski, now principal of the New Orleans school, said the school day begins at 8:25 a.m. with a consultation period where students work on career plans and job skills. Eight out of 10 Rooted School graduates have earned at least one tech industry degree. About half go to college and the other half take one of the job offers they have received.

To further support graduates going to work, Rooted has launched a Green Balloon Scholarship, a one-year paid STEM internship that includes global strategies and accredited learning.

With support from 4.0, Rooted launched a youth cash transfer study where 10 older people received $50 a week for a year. Analysis from the Center for Guaranteed Income Research at the University of Pennsylvania showed positive results, including improved family financial health and improved financial literacy and mental well-being for students. The goal is to expand the program to 230 students in New Orleans and Indianapolis. (Listen to the student-developed Rooted Cash podcast series for more.)

In her 2021 book, Making It, Stephanie Krauss argued that young people need four necessary currencies to thrive in our society: skills, relationships, referrals, and money. Rooted School is one of the few systems running on all four.

Rooted School is growing into a nationwide network of microschools that combine college credit, work experience, and industry credentials (a nimble next-generation P-TECH cousin) with strong support in student-centric environments. It is also an economic mobility platform that will help us all better understand the role that work and income play in mobility.


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