By Odett Salcedo
New York, N.Y.
Studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, last year, Jason Warrington ’13 and Greg Groves ’13 could not help but notice the poverty that surrounded them. The two Princeton students were especially struck by the homelessness and poor standards of education. While the situation moved them, they realized that very similar problems were affecting Americans back home.
Along with Christian Smutherman ’14 and Amina Yamusah ’13, they wanted to find a way to approach the problem.
“We decided to create our business based on the proficiency of minority students in math and English. Black male students have the lowest graduation rate in the United States and one of the reasons is that they are not receiving the foundation they need in order to succeed,” Groves said.
Upon realizing that both of them received a Montessori education, they decided to base their plan on the Montessori school located in Princeton. The Montessori schools are based in different cities, but they all have the same mission and vision. Students work for uninterrupted blocks of time, and are allowed to move around their classrooms freely.
Warrington and Groves’ original business idea was to target pre-K to fifth grade black male students through the Freestyle Montessori Urban Academy, a program that would start in the summer of 2014. The students would continue having bi-weekly Saturday classes through the school year and would have the opportunity to cover topics that are not included in their regular curriculums.
To fund the program, Warrington, Groves and their partners applied to the Black Male Achievement Fellowship, a program established by the Open Society Foundation and Echoing Green. For 18 months, the program provides financial and technical assistance to different startups that are seeking to address black male achievement.
Just one problem: Their application was rejected. Resolved to find funding, they applied and were accepted to the Keller Center’s eLab Summer Accelerator Program, a 10-week Princeton University program that serves as a platform for student entrepreneurs.
During the program, students are provided with training sessions and mentors that help them create a successful business. By the end of the summer, the nine groups participating in the program will have to present their ideas to an audience of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. The Freestyle Montessori Urban Academy is the only one with an explicitly social mission.
The founders of the program agree that the earlier the students start learning, the easier it is for them to succeed. Based on his experience as a past Montessori student, Groves said that “a student would not be treated as a grade but as person.”
Added Warrington, “The program will supplement what the students learn at school.”
Despite the societal goals of the program, FMUA will charge tuition. Warrington and Groves are hoping to offer financial aid for students who cannot afford the tuition, so that those students can have access to resources that otherwise they would not have. They are developing relationships with different associations that can help support the program and make enrollment more accessible.
“Parents will be assured that they will not pay any more than they can afford,” Warrington said.
The program has also recently been expanded. It’s not just targeting black males anymore but different demographics.
Every day is a new adventure for Groves and Warrington.
“We don’t have a typical day. Sometimes we might be budgeting, and the next day we would be writing the mission statement or choosing the logo,” Groves said.
In about five years, they would like to run the program at full capacity in cities like Princeton and Trenton. Their goal is that the students will go back to their community and become role models.
“We receive a lot of support, especially from our parents,” said Groves, who has been heavily influenced by his parents’ social work. Groves’ mother is a judge and his father is a lawyer—they have spent their career helping others.
Groves and Warrington hope their students at FMUA will be inspired to do the same.