It may have been stifling hot last Saturday (April 13) evening for grilled hamburgers and hotdogs and for fun and games, but Alexius Wilson didn't seem to mind. The 9-year-old gallivanted around the school grounds at Hanley Elementary and jumped in and out of inflatable bouncers, all while her mother, Veronica Black, kept a vigilant watch in the shade.
Black was one of several dozen parents who attended the family barbeque and registration drive hosted by Aspire Public Schools, a nonprofit organization operating 34 high-performing, open-enrollment and neighborhood charter schools in California. Aspire was assigned the operations of Hanley in 2012 to begin managing the school in the fall of 2013.
"My baby wanted me to come up here to see what was going on. So I signed her up (for the 2013-14 school year)," said Black, 41, the mother of seven girls, including Alexius. "I want her to learn more about technology. She's a good student. She even shows me stuff that I don't know."
Alexius and her family reside in the Orange Mound community. She was first enrolled at Hanley in pre-K. By the time she got to second grade, her mother made the decision to enroll her at Treadwell Elementary. Now she'll be back at Hanley in third grade.
"We're seeing community members take a vested interest in their children. They're asking tough questions," said Nickalous Manning, Aspire's community outreach and partnerships manager.
Manning and several staffers at Aspire dressed for the occasion, donning blue jeans and purple T-shirts emblazoned with the Aspire logo and slogan "I'm found in Orange Mound."
"This is the epitome of community," Manning said. "It's more than a registration; it's about being on the same page about education. It's about building a community."
Cynthia Trotter lives down the street from Hanley. She has been a resident of Orange Mound since she can remember, so has her mother and grandparents. Her 9-year-old daughter, Daija Trotter, was a student at Hanley before Aspire took over its operation. Now she will be going to third grade under Aspire.
"I want her to continue to go there," said Trotter, 41. "I had no major problems with the school. But I heard they (Aspire) are supposed to be better."
Monica Keller, 27, said she hopes Aspire does do a good job.
"I'm looking for good teachers who will teach reading, math and language," said Keller, who enrolled three children at Hanley.
Keller's 9-year-old son, Mantrell Keller, will be in third grade next year. Kenterrika Keller, a 7-year-old, will be in first grade. And 5-year-old Kentabions Brooks will start kindergarten at Hanley.
"This is spectacular to see parents come into the school," said co-principal Barbara Harris. "It's such a great spirit with students and parents all looking forward to a new start and lots of possibilities for students to realize Aspire's 'College for Certain' mission."
Co-principal Nikita J. Reed said she wants to empower the students at Hanley, provide them with a quality education, and enhance social development. She was retired principal Ruby Payne's assistant principal five years ago.
"I'm happy to be back," she said, adding that she wants to keep the community involved and abreast of what is going on at the school. "Ruby taught me that it does take a community for the school to be successful."
Hanley Elementary is nestled in Orange Mound and thrives on community pride and parental support. It also partners with businesses, churches and nonprofits. The founder of one of its partners attended the barbeque and registration drive.
"I love Hanley," said Edward Bogard, the chief sogiv-er of SoGiv, a nonprofit that raises global awareness and funds for worthy causes through the sale of footware and apparel. The organization supports 16 different causes from childhood cancers to natural disasters.
"We're very excited about partnering with Aspire," said Bogard, who mentored students at Hanley before his mother retired there as a teacher. He is now contemplating a field trip for the students to attend a Grizzlies game, as he'd also done for the students at Cherokee Elementary.
Of the more than 150 parents and children attending the 5-hour barbeque and registration drive, Alexius Wilson spoke with certainty and relative ease about the next school year at Hanley.
"I want to learn more about math and reading," she said.
She also would like her old teachers back, but added, "I wouldn't mind the new teachers."
(Wiley Henry is with The Carter Malone Group.)