Jalen Rose can now add “educator” to his long list of social contributions. The former NBA star and current ESPN analyst has established the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy (JRLA) in his hometown of Detroit in order to help improve Michigan’s troubled education system — and ultimately give Detroit adolescents under his care the best education possible.
The thirty-eight-year-old was motivated to found JRLA due to a concern that Michigan’s stagnant economy is impeding students’ ability to succeed in high school and attend college.
“When the auto industry was around, adults weren’t necessarily going to college to get degrees,” Rose told theGrio. But that industry cannot support the region as it once did. “This domino effect has in turn affected children,” Rose continued.
Indeed, according to a recent study conducted at the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University, only 31.9 percent of Detroit’s public high school students graduate in four years. In addition, only 12 percent of adults in Detroit have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
To receive a good education, many students have to attend schools outside their districts. “If I live in a district where I know the school is poor performing, why should I have to make my child go there?,” Rose asserted.
The former University of Michigan basketball player expressed his sympathy for parents who are trying to educate their kids within this highly-flawed system.
“It’s embarrassing and ridiculous to me that politicians are talking about charter schools versus public schools and more,” Rose said. “We should just try to make sure that we have quality schools across Michigan.”
The Jalen Rose Leadership Academy helps solve this problem. JRLA is an open enrollment charter school that opened in September of 2011 on the northwest side of Detroit. The school’s first class consisted of 120 ninth graders, and will be followed by an additional freshman class each year until a maximum of 500 students is reached. Students are accepted into the school through a lottery system — and competition to get in is fierce.
“I wanted to create more quality performing schools than the public schools offered in Detroit,” Rose said. “I’m fortunate that basketball has placed me in a good position to help give kids the education that they need.”
Under Rose, JRLA provides the rigorous education necessary for students to attend college and earn a bachelor’s degree. Students are educated in a context based on real world, project-based experiences.
The academy differs from other schools with its longer school year — 211 instead of 176 days — and a longer school day, which goes from 7:30 to 4:00. Instead of taking work home, students complete their homework at school where they do not have distractions and can readily receive assistance.
Plus, the challenges of growing up near the harsh neighborhood where JRLA is housed are addressed. “We can’t take things for granted like… sex, violence, and drugs,” Rose said. “We need to instead show students how to overcome negative experiences as well as how to become responsible and disciplined global leaders of tomorrow.”
JRLA attendants also receive laptop computers, get paired with college student mentors, and will earn credit for a minimum of three college courses from the University of Detroit prior to graduation.
“Through our curriculum, we see victories in the classroom. We are trying to expose students to life as a college student and get them a step ahead of the game,” Rose said. “In the future I would like to have all colleges within Michigan give some type of support.”
The academy also nurtures its students through small classes.
Rose places tremendous expectations on the teachers at his academy, relating, “I wanted to approach the school like a business. Teachers, like students, have to perform at a higher level each year. They only have a year-long contract and do not get tenure.”
“We wanted teachers who could inspire, multi-task, and be responsible for helping each student not only graduate, but also go on to college,” Rose said.
Ultimately, the hope is that better education for Detroit natives will play a critical role in transforming the community into a vibrant intellectual and economic environment. In this way, Rose emphasized to the Grio that his school can help revitalize society’s perception of Detroit. But the most important thing to the former baller is helping eager kids make the most of their lives.
“I hope that students know that someone believes in them. I know this is not going to be an overnight success. It takes a long time. We all have to be willing to sacrifice,” Rose explained.
Yet, “It’s nice to see our students really are focusing on trying to make something of their lives, and we want to help them do that here,” Rose said, full of hope.
Some doubt Rose’s ability to be a role model due to previous behavior. Rose was arrested in March of 2011 in West Bloomfield, Michigan after crashing his Cadillac Escalade and failing a Breathalyzer test. Rose pleaded guilty to a single count of operating a vehicle while under the influence and served time in jail for his crime.
About this incident, Rose told The Wall Street Journal: “That was a terrible choice I made—a dumb decision, and at least I only put myself in harm’s way.”
Despite his previous mistakes, Rose’s current focus is positively influencing as many children as possible. Overcoming his own personal difficulties — including growing up without his dad — may have been his seed inspiration.
“You’ll see young men and women who are successful all the time in spite of circumstances,” Rose concluded about the power of his school to change lives.
“Yes, learning does start at home,” he reasoned, “but much of success starts from what one perceives as success. I’m here to help my students to never get distracted or discouraged, but instead to help them turn their lives into something positive.”