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He’s opening the first school in Norfolk, Virginia’s Ghent neighborhood, close to his Virginia Beach hometown. “If the system is fixed and unfair, then it needs to be broken,” Williams said in a statement, per The Virginian Pilot.
“We don’t want lockstep learning where so many kids fall behind; we want bespoke learning designed for each child, where the things that make a child different are the same things that will make a child rise up and take flight.”
Kids in grades three through five will be able to enroll in the school, which is called Yellowhab. Tuition for at least the first year will be free, with costs to be paid for by charitable giving. Pharrell’s nonprofit is capitalizing on the experience it acquired while operating youth summer programs.
While Yellow doesn’t plan on being a public charter, it does have ties to charter schools. One of its first donors, the Walton Family Foundation is a financial advocate of charter schools, and members of Yellow’s team and board are linked to charters in Los Angeles and New York City.
Williams chose Norfolk due to its housing segregation and because the city is preparing to redevelop three public housing complexes.
“Residents [are] being displaced from their homes with potentially limited housing options available which limits options for the children,” Stephanie Walters, Yellow’s director of engagement, told The Pilot. “We have a great relationship with the City of Norfolk and want to be a part of the solution in supporting the community with resources and support.”
Students who go to Yellowhab aren’t restricted to living in one area. For the first year, the school will take 40 to 50 students with the school designed to group students by skill level rather than grade level.
“The challenge is that if you’re progressing too slow relative to some benchmark, then you’re tagged with that title ‘remedial’ or something like it,” Executive Director Mike McGalliard said. “And that’s detrimental to your evolving self concept, to your sense of what you can achieve. It’s oppressive, and it’s a weight kids carry.”
The school’s curriculum will also give priority to STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, art, and math, and will look to open a middle school next year, as well as other schools. The first school opens on Sept. 7. Families can apply for enrollment on Yellow’s website until July 1, and students will be selected using a lottery.